Seeing Othello recently confirmed for me that being a first-rate writer requires the same kind of training that an architect receives. A typical program includes courses in architectural history and theory, building design, construction methods, professional practice, math, physical sciences, and liberal arts.
Writers may not need to study math or the physical sciences, but they do need to give themselves the best liberal arts education they can find, both formal and informal. And like architects, in order to be successful in their field, writers need vision, a rich imagination. Creative writing programs can help educate us to a certain extent in terms of craft, but much of our learning must happen outside the academy. That means the direction is unsystematic and mostly comes from within.
Yet like an architect, we need to be thoroughly familiar with materials and structures, both ancient and contemporary. We also need to make friends with the unconscious.
I once naïvely assumed that I could devote one summer to writing and suddenly bloom like Athena from Zeus’ head, becoming an author overnight. It didn’t happen. As I’ve discovered since then, it takes a tremendous amount of sheer hard work, of experimenting and exploring and discarding until control over the craft emerges.
Then there are all the inner blocks to overcome, dragons that we continuously have to slay before we can claim our own voice. These include the inner critic who wails that we don’t have any talent and no one will ever publish our work. It also involves all the ways we can distract ourselves from the task at hand, pencil sharpening instead of writing.
Though at times I would like to renege on the commitment I’ve made to myself, if I keep plugging along, I see progress.