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.
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