On Creative Writing

I was an English major while at CSUN, and attended several creative writing classes where my instructor—the late, great, open-minded Wally Graves—encouraged his students to freely write about anything—no-holds-barred. We were able to use any form of foul language, and write stories about any topic—even those that were nihilistic, violent, or sexual in nature.


The format of the classes was simple, yet effective. We all sat in a circle facing one-another, and toward the end of each session three or four students were chosen to write short stories to be read the following week. When the time came, each selected student read his or her story aloud, while the rest of us listened silently and took notes—including Wally.


Once a student finished reading, he or she was to remain silent while every other student had a chance to critique the story they just heard. Wally finished with a verbal critique of his own, and handed the student his own written notes. Only then was the student allowed to respond to the critiques, if he or she wished. 


One of my fellow students was a retired, hunched, elderly woman, who walked with a cane and took the writing course simply for the pleasure of it. She presented the group with poorly-written, sentimental stories about rainbows and sunbeams, grandchildren, puppies, knitting, and home-cooked meals. Still, we did our best to politely humor her, being uncharacteristically gentle with our critiques.


On one occasion, however, she read a story she had written that none of us there would ever forget. 


The story revolved around a specific flower in an endless field of flowers; a lonely, passionate flower with an inner beauty—one that was more special than the rest. 


This flower had strong, secret feelings and desires. It longed to have its delicate petals opened and caressed by the wings of a humming bird, wishing for its long beak to thrust in and out of the flower's honey-laden depths; and craved to have its slick, sweet nectar lapped lovingly by the quick, hungry tongues of many, many bees...and so on.


It didn’t take long before every student in the class—and our instructor, Wally—realized that this was not a story about a flower at all, but a metaphor for something much more intimate and profound. 


We glanced at one-another—amazed—and some even blushed while the old woman continued to read her story, seemingly oblivious to the hidden meaning we all perceived to be behind her words.


When she finished, we were momentary struck dumb, not knowing how to respond. Sensing this, Wally stepped in. 


“Was your story possibly about anything other than a flower?” He asked the old woman.


“Hmm,” she said, mincing her brow and adjusting her glasses. “No, no. Just a flower; just a flower, through and through.”


Each of us who attended the class was left with the strong impression that the old woman had written about something from deep within her subconscious, and that she had absolutely no awareness of it. Either that or the rest of us had our minds in our underwear.