MFA in Creative Writing - Pete Nelson
My approach to writing and to teaching writing is to bear in mind that stories are biologically important. We live collectively, in a variety of shifting aggregations, in pairs, in families, in towns, in nations. Yet what we learn, we learn as individuals. We tell stories to each other to help strengthen the bonds between us, and to learn from each other. The stories that we find useful, that help us adapt and survive, are the stories we repeat and preserve. A term I've heard to describe this is "Literary Darwinism." The stories that don't help us adapt and survive, we forget. That doesn't mean stories must be grave or deep or serious at all times, but they must tell the truth. As writers, we look within ourselves for those truths, and the deeper we look, the more valuable we are.
In workshops, I believe in broad, open-minded critical approaches and that writing should be both work and play. I think of Picasso, who (so I was taught in an art history class) would make a 10' X 10' painting in the morning, rip it in half, throw away the bottom half, change everything in what remains, have lunch, drink a bottle of wine, take a nap, wake up and dig the bottom half out of the trash, glue it back on upside down, make revisions with his left hand instead of his right, slice the painting lengthwise, keep a section 12" square, burn the rest for heat in the fireplace, frame the 12" X 12" painting, forget about it and go to a bullfight. I like everything about that except the bullfight. Writing is pushing words onto the page until they're in front of you, working mindfully but playfully. Editing comes next, passionate and aggressive but keen to find the best end result, "killing your darlings" (as Joan Didion said) along the way. The goal is to make a story that survives, and one that, large or small, means something.