Creative writing class. That is a phrase that evokes in me some very ambivalent reactions. I’ve taken a few, and some of them have been really good. Others were nightmares.
I have always had a mixed reaction to discussions of craft when it comes to writing or painting. They seem so unworthy of the deep feelings I bring to these fields. It doesn’t bother me to read about craft on such matters as candle making, say, or basket weaving, or, um, journalism. But the craft of poetry? The craft of abstract painting? Oh no. These are matters of soul, not to be cheapened with the tawdry quotidian bother of drill and formula.
In short, your Storming Bohemian is a creative snob.
Fortunately, there are some lovely books and teachers out there who have countered this regrettable tendency. For painting, there is nothing like local artist Todd Brown‘s painting workshop, “The Art Of Not Knowing” which I have recommended before. And then there is the classic book The Art Spirit by the great American painter and teacher Robert Henri (pronounced “Henry”—avoid the French pronunciation and you have taken a giant step away from uninformed cultural snobbery).
Countless writers have benefitted from Los Angeles teacher Jack Grapes’ workshops on “The Craft of the Invisible Form” (there’s that cringe producing “craft” word again).
Back in February, at the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, I met east bay writing teacher Andy Couturier, who has written an unusually good book of writing exercises: Writing Open the Mind: Tapping the Subconscious to Free the Writing and the Writer. That’s a lot of title for a book that covers a lot of ground.
Couturier is an unusual guy, a student of both improvisational theater and Buddhist meditation, an expert on the Japanese countercultural movement toward simpler rural living and a writer of essays published in both The Japan Times and The North American Review.
His book of writing exercises includes eleven chapters with intriguing names, such as: “Shaking Up The Curmudgeon”, “Sway” and “Shatter/Scramble”. The individual technique exercises have equally fascinating titles, including: “Wild and Stuffy”, “The Great Gateway of Dissonance” and “Turn and Look Again; Turn and Look Again”.
Each technique is presented in four parts: First, an introduction to the exercise. Then, a carefully detailed set of instructions called “Try It!”, followed by “Questions for the Curious” for those who want to reflect on the exercise, and, finally, “The Mind Of It” discussing the theory behind the technique.
I have been experimenting with Couturier’s exercises for the past few weeks and have not yet found a dud. Readers of this column may recall that I actually recommended one of his exercises a few weeks ago.
I heartily recommend Couturier’s book for those that are looking for a crafty tuneup and a means of putting the inner snob in hir place.
Do you have some favorite craft books to recommend?
– Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian