ways of writing

Image: Antonio Lizarraga


Commentary on the relationship between creative workshops and literature

There are no magic formulas or infallible models for producing quality literature. The very idea of ​​quality here is so subjective and historically determined, uncertain and changing, that it would already yield a lot of cloth for theories. Furthermore, teaching literature, its history, genres, styles, is very different from teaching literature, prose or poetry. What is conventionally called creative writing, for both didactic and marketing purposes, is actually always a challenge, a gamble, a risk, or an experiment with language. Men and women writers test and distort the material at their disposal to arrive at new, unusual and sometimes surprising results. Nobody creates from nothing, nor is it as original as you imagine, or would like. It is created from what is read and what reading provokes in the reader's imagination, or in their awareness of language, its limitations and potentialities.

The literary creation workshops are fertile environments for exchanging reading and writing experiences, a moment of learning and reviewing one's own posture in relation to the text and the desired literary project: they are like laboratories, like a game board, a living theater in that the word is the central character. Many people, however, still confuse these workshops and workshops with a short course to write novels, short stories and well-resolved poems, which please this or that audience and obtain recognition, whatever that may be.

When he decided to abandon work and live in a modest way, almost like a hermit, dedicated to writing haiku, the Japanese poet Matsuô Bashô (XNUMXth century) received guests at his home or traveled to meet with disciples and talk about poetry, read and discuss poems, write. He had dozens of students and corresponded with them. Many of his innovative ideas about haiku structure were debated and improved in these meetings. Countless poets were trained there and new poetic trends emerged, or were critically revised. Bashô's own writing was transformed, exploring other directions, rhythms, themes.

The famous essay by the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky “How to make verses”, from 1926, is used in many creative workshops and can very well be used as an instigating support material. Right at the beginning of the text, the clarification: "I do not provide any rule for a person to become a poet, for him to write verses. And in general, such rules do not exist. We give the name poet precisely to the person who creates these poetic rules” (in Boris Schnaiderman’s translation). Of course, the poet then discusses the relationship between the present writer and tradition, from a critical point of rereading the past and also the present. Further on, Mayakovsky states that “the creation of rules does not in itself constitute the purpose of poetry, otherwise the poet will become a scholastic, who will exercise in the formulation of rules for non-existent or unnecessary objectives and theses”.

This poet's struggle with tradition and with what is consolidated as an aesthetic model also applies to prose. In inventing the modern novel, Cervantes did not have a primer on the genre, but he had to deconstruct the narratives that preceded him and explore unknown territory, creating the very mechanisms of his fiction: the progress of the plot, the rhythm, the permanent tension between drama and comedy, precise and ferocious dialogues, character design, setting, oscillation between descriptive and digressive voices, mixture of realism and fantasy, reason and delirium. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza became great paradigms, like Sophocles' King Oedipus, to be reworked in a fictional key and at different times.

In one of the many dialogues recorded in the script workshop at the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños, in Cuba, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez discussed with students the construction of a scene on the beach and the entrance of the characters, when one of the participants proposes that the “man sees the girl cleaning fish, cutting off the heads of the fish”. At that moment, Márquez intervenes: “or children?”. The student is disconcerted: “how is it?”. And the author of One hundred years of Solitude teases: “this story lacks madness. That's what I mean. You are very serious”. The proposal then unfolds and advances with the contribution of other participants in the class until they close the sequence. Márquez did not try to impose his ideas, but to provoke the students to the creative solutions possible in that text.

The best and most efficient tool for creative writing workshops is still critical and exhaustive reading, debated, shared between authors and students. In the amusing and biographical book About writing – art in memories, Stephen King notes clearly and accurately: “if you want to be a writer, there are two things to do, above all others: read a lot and write a lot. As far as I know, there is no way around these two things, there is no shortcut.” It is obviously not a matter of devotional reading, but of a permanent training exercise. Reading to enter the universe imagined by male and female writers, to participate in the proposed language game, to experience their own ways, or variants, of writing and rewriting tradition, or even present trends. The writing that is nourished by other writings, in a labyrinthine and Borgian process.

Another essential element of the creative writing workshops is the possibility of exchanging experiences with other authors and readers, spying on the carpentry of the creative process. Ray Bradbury tells, in the volume of essays and testimonials Zen and the Art of Writing, who started writing in earnest at the age of 20, making daily lists of words around which he composed characters and experimenting with combinations, which soon became short stories. This is just an example of a precious backstage, which can help us understand how a writer traces his path, develops his method and his voice. After all, says Bradbury, nothing is lost on this path: “from an ever-wandering curiosity for all the arts, from bad radio to good theater, from rhyming lullabies to symphony, from wild toy to Castle of Kafka”.

* Reynaldo Damazio is an editor, critic and author, among other books, of portable movements (Kotter, 2020).



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