In 2001, Robert Olen Butler launched a project titled “Inside Creative Writing.” Over the course of three weeks, Butler wrote a story while the world (okay, whoever tuned in on television or via the Internet) watched. Viewers were able to peer over Butler’s shoulder as he wrote, witnessing the creation of a story from the ground up in real time. In advance of the first broadcast, Butler described the project as follows:
It […] involves the sharing of a fully elaborated, moment-to-moment act of personal intimacy formerly found only behind the veil of private life -- the act of creating a piece of literary fiction. I will begin with a simple concept for a story, and with no other preparation, I will create the story in real-time on the Internet. You will see every creative decision, down to the most delicate comma, as it is made on the page. Every misbegotten, awkward sentence, every bad word choice, every conceptual dead end will be shared and worked over and revised and rewritten before your eyes. I will work for about an hour every night, Sunday through Friday, and after each session I will entertain as many emailed questions as I can in half an hour or so. I will be miked and I will occasionally try to offer some running, oral commentary on my process and my choices as I work.
The sessions have been archived online along with a copy of the completed story. They can be accessed here. I only recently became aware of the project through Butler’s book on writing, and I haven’t yet watched the sessions. However, I’m intrigued by the concept and I’m excited by the potential that the archived sessions hold as a teaching tool. If nothing else, they should demystify the creative process for those who believe that stories arrive fully formed on the wings of inspiration.
At the same time, I’m glad there’s no camera trained on my own writing desk. These days, I fear that it would capture far too many shots of an empty chair while I wander off downstairs for another cup of tea or to flip through the channels. Note to self: watching Book TV doesn’t count as writing. Of course, neither does watching Butler write, but I’m sure there’s something to be learned from this rare intimate glimpse into another writer’s process.