Can creative writing be taught; moreover can you learn creative writing? It’s a thought that crosses my mind now and again. It usually happens when I am stuck with my own work and feeling creative constipation as I like to call it. I then think over what I have written and contemplate if it could be improved by taking a creative writing course, specifically I think of an MA in creative writing. I then ask myself if the sole act of being accepted onto the course might be a validation of latent talent.
When the moment passes I decide the answer to the above question is no. I don’t believe it would be an automatic validation, but it is a temptation to think that it is and that a chance of being published or at least being publishable would be increased by a creative writing degree. However as I have never applied for one of these courses perhaps I am not really in a position to comment?
My personal suspicion is that you cannot really teach anyone to be ‘creative’ in their writing or anything else, I think that comes more from internal motivation and passion. Perhaps innate talent can be improved if your students are willing to put the time in and are obsessive enough to invest in their ‘required’ 10,000 hours. At the minimum perhaps a course could improve style or technique? But even these concepts are subjective, and in the final analysis I think many of us who write (including myself) do not realise quite how ‘not publishable’ we are – if only because our writing does not fit with the current market – if being published is indeed what novel writing is about.
Perhaps many of us who write are wrong even to think of publication as if this was the only goal worthy of our time. Perhaps reading, writing, finding your voice, relishing the use of language, feeling a story come to life, bringing something new and original to the world free from expectation is enough for anyone?
Hanif Kureishi caused a stir at the Independent Bath Literature festival earlier this month when he said that creative writing courses are a “waste of time.” He considers that “a lot of my students just can’t tell a story. They can write sentences but they don’t know how to make a story go from there all the way through to the end without people dying of boredom in between. It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.”
I am still undecided on this, what do you think?