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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  1. Robin says:

    Anyone who believes that creative writing courses have no value should take a look at the success achieved by the University of East Anglia. Their course was set up by Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson, with poetry being added later under Andrew Motion. Their alumni include Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. Great talents to start with, admittedly, but they happily acknowledge their debt to the UEA.

  2. Diane says:

    I was on the Creative Writing course that Lindsay has just finished. I found it stimulating, enjoyable and at times taxing! I hadn’t written a fictional story since leaving school which was a long time ago. Initially I found it daunting to be in a group where some people had quite a lot of writing experience. However I shouldn’t have worried as they were so supportive and helpful. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and have learned such a lot about the craft of writing. There is still a lot to learn and I look forward to the next course.

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