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by F.R. Duplantier

"Creative Writing." The term itself is nonsensical -- redundant in theory, oxymoronic in practice. Redundant, because in theory any type of writing -- from the school essay to the love letter to the crime report to the office memo -- can be creative writing, if the writer formulates an original thought and demonstrates some mastery of his native tongue in expressing it. Oxymoronic, because in practice that writing which styles itself creative is, more often than not, hackneyed and poorly constructed.

Disdain for writing that is profitable, and for the writer who supports himself with his ability, is implicit in the term, "creative writing." The concise, informative articles of skilled journalists; the witty, compelling advertisements of eloquent copywriters; the meticulous, profound explications of deep-thinking scholars -- all these clearly conceived and carefully crafted evocations of precise themes are, by implication, uncreative, when juxtaposed to the drivel that passes for "creative writing."

What exactly is creative about "creative writing"? Surely not the fact that it has no commercial value. No, the whole self-indulgent, unproductive process of "creative writing" is creative only from the perspective of marketing. Coming up with the idea of bilking thousands of deserving suckers out of thousands and thousands of dollars that some relative probably worked hard for -- simply by offering them the opportunity to sit at a desk and scribble -- now that's a stroke of genius.

In its day, the vanity press was a brilliant and innovative scam. But it was severely flawed when compared to the creative writing course. After all, the pathetic soul who spent $10,000 to publicize his foolishness did at least wind up with a thousand hardcover heirlooms to store in his attic. The creative writing student, however, is left with nothing tangible to show for the time and money he has squandered. He has been taken for the perfect ride.

And that would be just fine if only he didn't seem so smug about his stupidity. The vanity press victim would initially offer his book to the world with as much fanfare as could be mustered by someone totally devoid of any understanding of what people value and will pay money for. But, as the months dragged on, and the books began to gather dust and yellow, a trace of self-doubt would inevitably appear in all but the sternest self-deceivers; those who did not hold out for posthumous recognition would be compelled, eventually, to admit that perhaps there wasn't really any merit in their bursts of self-expression, and that maybe the money had been better spent on a retirement plan, or siding for the house.

But the creative writing student (because his work is never tested in the marketplace, never subjected to the impartial judgment of someone who is not directly profiting from his delusions of grandiloquence) never risks the possibility of disillusionment. Because his instructor strokes his ego incessantly -- like a quack doctor who verifies nonexistent ills, or a dance instructor who professes to see some portents of rhythm, dexterity, and poise in an uncoordinated goon -- the creative writing student allows himself to believe without any substantiation that he does indeed have talent, and that the friends and relatives who cannot see it are simply blind, or envious.

Which is an attitude shared by his instructor, who likewise fancies himself a neglected genius, taking a perverse pride in the fact that he has never made any real money doing the thing he professes to be a master of, the few publications he may have to his credit having come courtesy of university- and government-subsidized presses. Had his oeuvre any commercial value, he would surely find his time more productively spent in writing than in teaching. A Waugh or a Wodehouse would neither teach, nor study, nor purport to be a practitioner of "creative writing," for creativity is not something he learned, but part of his being, and he is too busy writing to have time for posturing.

It's funny that one never hears a person introduce himself at a cocktail party as a "compassionate doctor," or a "shrewd lawyer." The person who has identified himself as merely a doctor is presumed, rightly or wrongly, to possess some measure of compassion. Likewise the lawyer, who, by virtue of his profession, is expected to be, to some degree, shrewd. Why then the epithetic "creative writer"? Why not just "writer" -- or, if precision is called for, "novelist," "dramatist," or "poet," corresponding to "pediatrician," "surgeon," and "proctologist"?

If creativity is a quality that inheres in writers, then surely those who feel the need to proclaim themselves creative can be assumed to be nothing of the sort, and their smugness needn't go unchallenged. (There are shams enough in the world without this one being tolerated.)

When introduced to someone who identifies himself as a creative writer, it is hardly inappropriate to inquire, "Are you really?" Or, "Gee, how creative are you?" But the one rejoinder guaranteed to deflate such poseurs is the following: "Ah, what have you published?"