Linked: Well, Dickens Didn’t Have an MA in Creative Writing

Well, Dickens didn’t have an MA in Creative Writing now, did he? Arifa Akbar on the myth of creative writing courses. (via)

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  • Sonja

    I’m taking a creative writing course now and I have to say I am unimpressed with it. My teacher is looking for something — even if he can’t articulate what it is — and if a story doesn’t fit that something then, well — it’s all so vague I can’t quite even articulate it properly.

    He really doesn’t like genre fiction though. I don’t know if every writing course considers literary fiction to be the only fiction worth reading and writing, but I was really looking forward to learning how to flex my sci fi muscles and then I wasn’t allowed to. Because, sci fi can’t have character driven stories either, didn’t you know. Genre fiction has “rules” that writers “have” to cater to.

    And I was like — you’re a creative writing instructor saying that genre is not…creative? In the hands of hacks maybe it’s not — but neither is literature fiction.

    Honestly, I think the workshop is the biggest help because people are talking about the stories, saying what worked and what didn’t instead of just saying it needs to look like This Ideal or whatever.

    But the workshop is only over half the course. The first half was rubbish mostly.

  • Eli James

    Well, most of academia is geared towards lit fiction, and I’m not really surprised. I took one analysis module this sem, and the depth of the subject caught me off-guard. It’s not at all useful for genre fiction, simply because genre fiction isn’t written for that kind of analysis. The same, I’d imagine, for creative writing courses. They’ll pop in all kinds of strange things like post-structuralism (when to use it, why, etc), symbolism, proper use of satire (Horatian vs Juvenalian), etc … which is really cool if you want to write for prizes and not story, but useless otherwise.

  • Sebatinsky

    I think creative writing classes are often poor, but I heavily disagree with Akbar’s conclusion. She may be gifted, but that doesn’t mean everyone who has the potential to write well can do it solely through introspection.
    I’ve spent enough time learning to be a visual artist to know that it is a creative endeavor where far more is learned than people generally expect – you don’t have to be some kind of born prodigy to draw well.
    Writing seems the same way. Some people have an incredible innate talent, but most successful writers seem to spend a lot of time learning how.

  • Eli James

    I agree with you; the question, however, lies in the how. MA courses are no guarantee you’ll be good, some of the very best authors practiced on their own, working day jobs as labourers or postmen, some as farmers.

    Incidentally: there are novelists who write their first novel after only a few months of writing, and go on to win instant acclaim. Safran Foer springs to mind (though it was a creative writing course that piqued his interest in the first place). The point I’m trying to make is that there are two kinds of creativity. The one that comes with youth, raw, unrestrained, and the other built over many years of practice and experimentation. Gladwell has a good piece on just this: read here.

  • Sebatinsky

    Eli – I love that article.