Jane here, posing a question that will probably send virtual brickbats raining down on me. Oh well, those of you who know me will appreciate just how worried I am about that. And let me make it clear I’m seeking information, not knocking those talented writers, including fellow Lady Killers, who give creative writing courses and tutorials. I just want to know: what exactly is it you aim to teach your students?
I’ve never attended a creative writing course, not even one solitary class. (I’ll pause for shouts of “Time you did then” and “We realised that from your books” to echo across cyberspace.) Partly this is because I hate showing my unfinished writings to anyone, anyone at all, never mind a group of would-be writers and their teacher who are there specifically to compare notes and critique the work in progress.
And partly it’s because I don’t think you can teach people to
be creative in this or any other field. They either are, or they are not. Most
are – all are, probably – and it’s born in them, not learned at a class. Hopefully
it’s nourished when they are young, but if not, it’s still there but dormant,
waiting for the chance to show itself later on. I don’t just mean creativity in
writing: those who enjoy making music, doing embroidery, establishing a garden,
are all creative. They can take lessons to hone their skills. That I understand.
I attended a folk-guitar course years ago, when I’d taught myself the chords
and some basic rhythms but wanted to advance a bit, and it was great, with the
added appeal that in the sing-along after each session, you only stood up to
perform if you wanted to, it wasn’t compulsory.
That’s presumably what good creative writing lessons are doing: showing students how to make their inborn talent grow.
So in reality it’s the title “creative writing class” that I’m unhappy with. I’d prefer the name “creative writing skills”, and perhaps some courses are called that. Even better, I’d like something more focused, such as “how to write mystery and suspense,” which Lyn will be teaching this autumn. Now that assumes that students have writing creativity to start with, but need guidance from an experienced writer on how to use it in a particular genre. It seems to me to have much more point to it than a general set of lessons on “creative writing.”
Well, that’s my two penn’orth. All you teachers out there, am I right or wrong? Going back to the teaching style of my schooldays, I’ll sum up my thesis like this: “You can’t teach creative writing. Discuss.”