Academic Writing is not Creative Writing–and those mindsets need not apply

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In being a book buyer, I get a heads up on all sorts of books that are coming out. One that really piqued my interest this month was Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction.

So, in this MASSIVE TOME of essays, there has been several quotes that have stood out to me. Here’s the first that I wanted to talk about:

It is the job of the creator to explore. It is the task of the academic to walk around the bomb site, gathering up the shrapnel, to figure out what kind of an explosion it was, who was killed, how much damage it was meant to do and how close it came to actually achieving that.
Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction

As a writer I am much more comfortable exploding than talking about explosions. I’m fascinated by academia, but it’s a practical fascination. I want to know how I can make something work for me or see what others have seen, have drawn out of fiction. I love learning about fiction, but the learning is only interesting as it is something I can use.

But, because I’ve had a lot of academic influence in my maturation as a writer, there has been a struggle for me in differentiating academic English/literature skill versus creative English/literature skill. And there has been a huge impact on how I value myself as I continue to sort these tangled strings out.

One of my not-strengths as a writer (I refuse to address it as a weakness) is that I have a hard time stepping away to see plot structure and theme. It is something that has plagued me for years and most notably was the bane of my existence in English class. My trouble grappling with this is the reason I thought for so long that I was a shitty writer; that I was no good at ENGLISH CLASS and therefore, would be no good at CREATIVE WRITING.

But anyone who reads can tell you that academic writing is not creative writing. After all, NONFICTION and FICTION are kept on separate shelves. You’d think my brain would have caught onto this nuance sooner.

It has taken me a long time to understand that just because I didn’t have solid academic success and ease-in-understanding concepts–and being able to point them out in fiction–held little bearing on my creative success, plotting, balancing, and skill.

It does mean that writing blurbs on my fiction is hard, though XD

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