Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
“The Creative Writing Class”
by Richard Peck
I’m a writer because I never had the Creative Writing Class. You know the one I mean, the one that exhorts, “Write what you know. Write from your own experience.” If I’d been limited to writing what I know, I’d have produced one unpublishable haiku in the past forty years.
Thank heaven nobody asked me to express myself before I had a self to express. Besides, boys brim with secret lives they have no intention of revealing. Fiction doesn’t start with the self. It begins with research. Every book begins in the library with the hope that it will end there.
We write in imitation of writers better than we are. Nobody but a reader ever became a writer. But where is the Creative Writing Class that mandates a stiff reading list? It would reduce class size dramatically.
A story is always about something that never happened to the author. J.K. Rowling did not attend Hogwarts School. Beatrix Potter was never a rabbit. Still, the idea that we writers have to live it first dies hard.
The other day I was giving an impassioned pitch for a novel of mine in a high school classroom. The book, my best, is called The River Between Us (Dial, 2003), and it’s set in the Civil War. At the end of the session, the teacher said, “Do you write only from your own experience?” I have a creepy feeling she teaches creative writing.
I’m off to the library in search of subject matter that is not me. And there, somewhere along those shelves, I’ll find it.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Richard Peck.