Saturday, May 12, 2007

Your questions answered

MINDY ASKS: Are creative writing courses worth it, or will I still be a crap writer with little or no imagination at the end of it, just a lot poorer?

Anne says: All humanity is perfectable and can be redeemed, so it is possible that you will be transformed into an imaginative genius, but this is more likely to happen by God's grace than by forking out [insert vast sum here].

On the other hand, all discipline is good.

Charlotte says: Your sense of duty should sustain you even on the bleakest and most hopeless days when you are full of despair and all seems, erm, bleak and hopeless. And desperate. But when the opportunity arises and you are at liberty to let your mind soar untrammelled, try to empty your thoughts of all daily cares and duties and you will find the people and places of your imagination sweeping in to fill your senses with nameless and turbulent thoughts and ecstatic swoonings and visions and carryings-away ...

Excuse me, must go and lie down ... bad headache ...

Emily says: Go away.

PC: The answer to your question, as to most questions, is 'it depends'. No amount of money or training will furnish you with an imagination that's qualitatively different from the one you have now. Nobody can teach you to be an artist; most competent teachers, however, can and will (or will attempt to) teach you your craft.

If you're really seriously thinking about mortgaging your car and your cat to pay for a course in creative writing, you should do at least three things first:

1) Ask yourself what you hope to get out of it (write a list), and whether these hopes are reasonable (mark items on list R or U).

If you all really want is encouragement, your mates will give you that for free. If you want specific information, hands-on training, and/or guidance about what to read, proceed with caution to step #2.

2) Remind yourself of the paradox of money-driven "education": education gets constructed as a product in a commercial transaction. The student becomes a client and the teacher a vendor, under extreme pressure to give the client what s/he wants. What most people think they want out of a Creative Writing course tend to be things that are actually unlikely to make them better writers, as many people who want to be writers already have very definite ideas about what 'A Writer' is and does, and sometimes these ideas don't include hard slog, self-education in language issues and writing techniques, or lots and lots of reading. Bear in mind that courses will inevitably evolve, from one year to the next, to adapt to whatever the student demand is.

3) Bearing #2 in mind, go and have a talk to everyone involved in your course of choice who is likely to be teaching you. Don't just drop by their offices: ring them up and make an appointment to sit down and talk to them for a while. (All academics are now permanently overworked, much of the workload being pointless admin and compulsory fund-raising, so if you just drop in they are unlikely to have time to sit down with you.) Discuss with these people the courses they are offering and how well those courses sit with your own aims and goals, as defined while answering question (1).

Now ask yourself whether you liked all of these people. If the answer is No, then you are unlikely to (want to) learn much from them, so don't do your dough.

UPDATE: Read Jinni's excellent comment (#7) for a detailed view from a writing student.

LOLCATS ASK: can we has writing advices?

You is be kittehs with not having teh opposable thumz for with hit teh space bar LOL!!! Kittehs shud be stik to puttin thir best por forwoods wich are incredibl cutenessage.

Teh Sisterz is not avayla aveili here -- they is be goes for walk WITH TEH DOGZ IN TEH RAIN OMG.


  1. My cat can't read. How can I convey to her your answer so she stops pestering me for computer time for her writing?

  2. My, what an interesting time you seem to have posted this comment at. I obviously need to do some more fine tuning.

    On the other hand, I see that Beta Blogger in its pure form has a comments preview function. Hallelujah.

    As to the cat, perhaps you could read the message out to her. You might also like to try this.

  3. Time stamps fixed!

    God I love it when I remember/work out how to do things.

  4. Dere sistas
    is spelling mor important than cretivity? why duZ my mum get upset abowt fings my teacha dusnt?

  5. Just wanted to let you know that I haz opposable thumbs. Thanks for teh new website, teacher, looking forward to many LQs (i.e. quietly) and LOLs.

  6. Dear Mlles. Brontë,

    When composing a roman of the bawdy, picaresque variety, how many gypsies is "too many"?

    Regards et cetera,

  7. Yes, but seriously, I am a creative writing student in a vast institution on a hill just south of Adelaide. I visited the course convenor before enrolling and was determined to wring as much knowledge as I could from the experience. In the last three years (I am an Honours student) I have been exposed to other writers, including staff, visiting writer’s, those we have a chance to interview for assignments, whom I would have never had a chance to meet had I not been a student. I’ve been forced to read (not that this was ever a problem) but I now read texts (sorry books) I might not have otherwise read. And I have been forced to write, which means to craft, to revise, to edit and to think about my reader while doing so. At the moment my reader might be an harried academic, but they read my material with a judicious mixture of grace and searing criticism. I don’t know if I will emerge from the course as a writer (whatever that is), but I will be someone who writes. I like the verb better than the noun anyway. I am a person who writes, not a writer and I have developed both as a person, and a writer. I feel this is because no one ever learns by just sitting passively and expecting to be filled with knowledge. This means I will be asking the Brontes a question or two if need be. And I’ll be telling my fellow students about the sisters if only to make sure the sisters are kept busy. We don’t want them getting bored and running amok on the streets of Adelaide.

  8. Jinni, there are indeed a number of excellent teachers of creative and professional writing at the vast insitution on the hill south of Adelaide. (Flinders is pretty good, too. Boom tish.) Thanks for this very valuable insight from the POV of the taught.

  9. Dear sisters,

    how do you find the time to write, in between satisfying your spouse, stopping the children fighting and cloning an army of radioactive gorillas?

    yrs &c.

    WV: gjnzcci — the bastard offspring of the juniper bush and various cucurbita spp.

  10. Interesting discourse on the issue of creative writing courses! As an instructor in same (though primarily for screenwriters), I heartily encourage you to keep up the good weeding (i.e. discouraging those who won't find what they're looking for in the classroom, etc.), and offer all of you ladies my heartfelt congratulations on a most edifying site.

  11. Dear Jinni in particular:

    As a brand new student in that institute of learning on a hill south of Adelaide before it became vast, I discovered there were no creative writing courses whatsoever.

    Since I was (and remain) terribly undisciplined and also addicted to the act of writing, I was desolate.

    Having made my living ever since with a manual Imperial, an electric Olivetti which roared, a vast IBM green-gobbed thang with dot commands, various piss-elegant Macs, and every generation of brain-rotting Windows, all to a curl-tongued background scritching of leaky biros, blunt pencils and the occasional gorgeous fountain pen in the moments before I lost it, let me tell you with tears in my eyes that you are a very lucky person.

    Aside from anything else, you will be learning how to easily fix the above sentence. I regressed to my adolescent self in a trice.

    I was saved by the drama degree, btw. But nobody there cared about prose.

    - david tiley

  12. Dear David (and others)
    When the institution on the hill (ok Flinders Uni) was little more than a collection of buildings, I too was in need of a creative writing course. With none available I trained, out on the northern plains, as a teacher. While you wrestled with your Olivetti and manipulated your Mac I taught people to read (and write).

    Now I’m a mature aged student and an advocate for creative writing courses. In my experience, it has demystified the writing process and the writer. I believe our luck has been of a different kind. I have much to learn from writers who missed the chance to do a course; they didn’t let that lack stop them. The beauty a course – and a blog like this – is that we can dialogue and discover what we might be able to offer each other, and the craft. I’m not sure if there is a distinction between those of us who do and those who don’t attend creative writing courses, but if there is, will there be a time when those differences will be irrelevant?