It was Mussolini who confirmed that I had a knack for creative writing. How so, you ask. Well, it all has to do with my pursuit of a tertiary degree.

If you have a talent for creative writing but you haven’t got a plot then don’t despair. There is a way to practise your craft and be assured of having someone read it, albeit a readership of one. It is called undertaking tertiary study.

Now you will need to be careful when enrolling in a course. Obviously you must avoid courses that require a clear understanding and actual use of formulae, definitions and terminology. And steer clear of any course requiring a technical ability (either innate or acquired) beyond basic keyboard skills.

Those of you who possess the abovementioned talents need not read on. You have the tangible skills to get yourself a proper degree and, no doubt, you have already mapped out your career path and you are out there getting on with it. Indeed, you are probably constructing and practising mnemonics at this very moment in time.

For the rest of you, I recommend something under the heading of Arts or Humanities, that is, subjects that are assessed by written work (preferably long-winded essays).

I advise that you avoid any units that involve scientific reports (e.g. sociology and psychology). I know you will be tempted (hey, it’s only words and some numbers) but, be warned this type of writing will eventually crush your sensitive soul. It requires the restraint of a catwalk model at a smorgasbord and the imagination of a rock. The key words here are “precise” and “concise” – two words incompatible with the concept of creative writing.

Perhaps at this point I should introduce some “for examples” by sharing some of my experiences using creative writing to complete an Arts degree.

I knew I was on a winner during the second semester of the first year when I wandered up to the tutor’s room to collect an assignment. The title of the assignment was:

“Orwell’s style is more appropriate for reportage than for imaginative fiction. Contrast two essays from Inside the Whale with Keep the Aspidistra Flying.”

The tutor handed over my assignment saying, “This is beautifully written but it doesn’t say anything.”

Now I was not surprised to hear her comment that it didn’t “say” anything because I already knew that to be true. However, I was most surprised to find that I had received 14 out of 20.

Over time I began to notice a trend in the scribblings beside my marks. There were comments such as: “competently written essay”, “well structured”, “lively”, “clear and genuine”, and “a good and excellently written essay”.

There were also comments such as: “limited point of view”, “more could have been said”, “doesn’t come to grips with the deeper levels”, and “a little light on detailed analysis”.

I began to realise that content was a necessary but not an essential ingredient. The medium was getting me a grade point average of a credit despite the message.

By the first semester of the third year, I was full of confidence and taking on history units which is another subject which lends itself to creative writing.

One memorable unit was taught by a lecturer who was not big on having to mark papers and therefore he wasn’t too keen on setting too many assignments or having to organise an actual examination. All we had to submit was just the one 5,000 word assignment for our chance to pass the unit. He was also very vague about the topic and he basically left that up to us. His only requirement was that it had something to do with his unit which was called "Modern History since WWI”.

My choice was Mussolini who was not a complex person (his hobbies being sex and megalomania) and therefore his autobiography (fortunately translated into English) was easy to read.

I learnt that from an early age Mussolini exhibited the prerequisite “conduct disorder” personality traits of a dictator-in-training. When only a young boy, Mussolini stabbed a fellow schoolmate in the back. I mentioned this fact in the assignment and stated, most dramatically, that he went on to figuratively stab the Allies in the back whilst he scurried about arranging various peace treaties in an effort to enhance his status as an influential world leader.

Needless to say the assignment was “lively” and I finally scored my first high distinction.

Now I know you will ask, “What happens when you finish the course?” A valid question. Well, you have been honing your writing skills for three years and if you attended a couple of lectures, read a couple of books or listened to gossip in the refectory, then you may have collected some ideas for writing a play, book, short story or an episode for a TV soap opera. Failing that, there is always a postgraduate course.

Me? Well, I did take on a postgraduate course. It is a bit of a challenge though as “beautifully written” doesn’t seem to be enough at this level and I had to try to keep up with the other students who could write assignments which actually “say something”.

But I do harbour literary ambitions. I fully intend to write a screenplay based on my Mussolini assignment. And I will, real soon. It’s just that I have a bit of laundry to do today and then there is the newspaper to read, and later I want to watch “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

Guess I’ll have to pencil it in for later this week.

Michelle ©



Clifton, Australia

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