My biggest beef with creative writing courses, at least at the programs I went to, was the concept of ‘write what you know’, which, in a way, takes away from the whole notion of being creative.
When I started out, I was a big Charles Bukowski fan. Later, I found out that so were a lot of folks. At Cabrillo College down in Santa Cruz, I wrote short stories about drinking and women, trying to channel Buk in my stories and falling miserably.
At the SFSU undergraduate creating writing program, I found my style of story telling, which revolved around the western. For me, the western is the foundation myth for America. It’s the perfect canvas to paint humanity on. The clash between the individual and the community, the conquest of nature, the vanquishing of the other, is all there in gun smoke and trail dust. Now some folks in the class didn’t think it was proper to write westerns in a university creative writing program. I basically told them it’s my time, my money, which I earned the hard way, therefore I’ll write whatever the fuck I want.
Now that wasn’t everyone. If anything, folks came up to me and told me how much they want to write detective, fantasy, science fiction or any other of the commercial genres out there. But for whatever reason, they wrote stories that they thought were accepted of them.
See, that’s the whole problem with write what you know, because what do any of us know at eighteen, nineteen, or even twenty two, other than drinking like a fish, doing drugs, and trying to get laid as much as possible. Now there are the moments that make us all different and that have shaped us, but that’s memory and not creative writing.
I use my experience in the army and life in general in my stories just like everyone else. I just don’t see a reason to try and fit that into a Charles Bukowski story.