Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Learning my Art

My writing course instructor mentioned, a little while back, that I should read the book, "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner, to supplement my course readings. And so I bought a copy and started reading.

In the beginning of the book, Gardner points out that a firm grasp of the rules of grammar are necessary in order for the student of writing to become a great writer. Fair enough. He then goes on to point out that an education in canonical literature is also essential.

This latter point may be debatable, sure. But while (as I have pointed out before) I have spend most of my reading life between the pages of the Western classics of English literature, I don't know that my art has exactly been bettered for it. I don't have a literary education. I spend my schooling years learning far too much about Epistemology, Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, the schooling of four years and Curriculum Studies instead.

So what is a new (old) writer to do? I have taken a big step by enrolling in Humber College to learn the art of fiction. But I considered in reading the above points that in order to enrich my art, I need to take it a step further.

Because I am not where I would like to be. Ever since I was a young girl, I just assumed that at the end of my life I would be remembered as among the greats. A Tolstoy, a Faulkner, a Kerouac, a Hemingway, a Bronte. Something like that. But when I read my current work, it's not up to par. Sure, it's a first serious work and it's not like it's Twilight bad. But it doesn't really rise above about a Dan Brown level. Is this something to complain about? Maybe not -- but I think I can at least do something about it.

I'm not about to go back to school. Accumulating degrees has been proven futile and I could not handle more student debt than I already have. But I can do something: I can turn to the thing that has emerged in the past few years -- just when I need it most: iTunesU.


So I've made up a course of study for myself from some English universities. From Open University I have an introduction to interpreting literature. I have a survey of English and Western literature. Stanford and Yale will guide me through some of the earliest of Greek and Roman works. Oxford will help me understand Shakespeare, and later George Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. And then back to Yale to study the American novel in depth.

So much for the fiction canon -- that's as much as I could find. But then I will move on to more specific matters: studies of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. And then if I haven't tired out completely, I will move on to studying a bit of poetry with Cambridge. Finally I'll "Challenge the Canon" at Oxford. And I'll accomplish all of this, I've decided, during my little trips to the coffee shop. It's a perfect way to do it: take a couple hours and my iPad mini, sit with a coffee and a snack and learn what I need to learn.

So, what do you think of my little course of study? Do you think it's a good idea, or even remotely like an actual university English Lit degree? Do you think authors really need such a background in order to become great? Is it a case of 'knowing the rules before you can break them?' Or should I just be able to come to greatness without such an education?