You can’t teach creative writing!
How many times have I heard people say you can’t teach creative writing? And the question never seems to be all that well meaning. There’s usually a hint of aggression – or suspicion at least – that somehow you are offering something under false pretences.
Because, of course, we can all write, can’t we? We’ve been doing it after all since the teacher first asked us to write What I Did on my Summer Holiday. And if we’ve got imagination, then why on earth would we need someone to teach us what to do with it? It’s intuitive, isn’t it?
Yes, I know I sound defensive. After all, I spend quite a lot of my time doing that very thing that supposedly people can get on with effectively without my interference. I suppose what gets me is that the question and doubts about the validity of the process, would not be posed to an aspiring artist, musician or dancer. Or even to a linguist, a scientist or mathematician. People seem to accept that even though they might have talent and flair for their subject, they still have to train and learn their craft.
And that’s exactly what creative writing courses – good ones – can do. They can’t provide imagination or ideas (although they can certainly help fuel those) but they can teach the craft of writing. Characterisation, plotting, using dialogue, creating setting, heightening tension etc etc can all be improved by some sessions in a good creative writing group, where effective feedback, a supportive environment and a striving for excellence are fostered.
You’re probably thinking that it’s time I got off my soapbox. But I’ll end by saying I’ve just finished a 12-week short story writing course with a really great group. Some were writers with experience; others were fairly new, but everyone was willing to share ideas, keen to learn, to challenge themselves and to help others produce their best work. And among the short stories created, some were potentially excellent.
I believe spending time with other people engaged in the challenging, often difficult, frequently lonely pursuit of creating fictional worlds can only be beneficial for writers. Best of all, they make you write!
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