Saturday, 28 March 2015
Does a Degree in Creative Writing make you a Creative Writer?
Flicking through a couple of writing mags, I'm struck by the number of creative writing courses now on offer. Anything from an MA to a BA to a short series of lectures. Even the Guardian is now cashing in and running all day sessions on how to write various types of genre fiction, non-fiction, blogs etc.
Many of these courses come with glowing endorsements from former students, some of whom have gone on to write best sellers/make small fortunes/land top jobs in the media profession. Call me Ms Cynic if you will (please do...) but I view the whole creative writing business with enough skepticism to refloat the Titanic.
I do not have a degree in creative writing. I don't have a certificate saying I attended any courses. Hell, I don't even have a badge saying writer. I just learned my craft as I wrote. Book after book after book. And as I read. Book after book after book. Because reading and writing was all I ever wanted to do.
So here's my take on the proliferation of degrees, second degrees, courses and 'Be a creative writer' stuff:
You can learn the structure of writing: how to balance sentences; how to vary action and description. You can learn how to construct characters, and how to write dialogue. You can learn grammar and punctuation. BUT that spark, that inner drive, that ''talent" that separates the real writer from the creative writing clone is innate. You are born with it. And if you ain't got it, you ain't.
And as for the ''best seller'' newbie writers, who have probably landed their publishing contract on the back of their writing tutors' connections to various publishing houses, (shock horror .. did you not realise that's how it works?) once they leave the cosseted hothouse world of the degree course, and let go of their mentor's hand, it is rare to see them flourish beyond that first carefully nurtured book.
The finest writers in the canon of literature: Shakespeare, Keats, Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy etc never went on a creative writing course, and never passed a single exam in creative writing. Would their works have been better if they had? I think not.