Are creative writing courses a waste of time?

Or more to the point, is writing a skill that can be taught, or a talent that some have and most don’t?

Hanif Kureishi, a creative writing professor, contends that 99.9% of his students are throwing away their time and their money in his class and others like it.

In terms of college classes I paid for, I have taken one creative writing course. It was a fairly easy course to pass, involving writing two stories over the span of the quarter, and peer reviewing everybody else’s story. My main takeaways from the course were the excellent book Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, and the impression that most people think a depressing story is a profound story (I was the first to write something even remotely funny).

I think input from other writers, or aspiring writers anyway, is valuable and can get you to think about things you might not otherwise have noticed. But all input should be taken with a grain of salt, with discernment, and it’s this discernment about the craft and how you tell a story that is one of the inherent skills of writing. The first time you hear what somebody says you should do to your story, listen to it without dismissing it, and still decide against it, you’re a writer or at least thinking like one. The key is not to be stubborn, but to know what you want to do.

I think writing exercises (prompts) can stretch your thinking and force you to consider ideas outside of your comfortable genre. The recent writing contest I entered was excellent for this.

And both of these are things you can obtain without paying any money (or at least not much), through forums like the blog, and a few excellent books.

Personally I think I’ve been taking a self-taught course in creative writing since I was about 3 years old, reading good books, and some books about the craft, and most importantly writing and putting that writing out there. I don’t want to put other people down in this situation, I think everybody has a story they can tell, they just might not have the right tools to tell it. If anything is inherent  (unable to be taught) I think it’s less the tools and more the attitude, the personality.

Writing is a solitary, introverted, frustrating and time consuming discipline. It can be wonderful, creative, imaginative, with words literally dancing off your fingers. And other days it’s a slog, and you have to be able to deal with both kinds of days.

If it takes a creative writing course to discover if this is for you, then that’s not bad in my bo0k. Frankly I recall my course being a welcome distraction from dozens of engineering courses. We all could use a tug into different lines of thinking. Maybe the course can’t really do anything to make you a writer, or maybe even a better one. But it at least can give you a taste of what it might be like to be a writer, and then let you decide for yourself.

What do you guys think? Taken any writing courses? Think your writing is God given talent?

1 Comment

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One response to “Are creative writing courses a waste of time?

  1. thehellblazer

    good post. I’ve never taken a course beyond High School. I don’t think it can be taught, this whatever we have. I kind of feel its like any predisposition, you either got it or you don’t and classes and studying may do all the things you illustrated so clearly, but I don’t think it will necessarily make you a better writer, I think you have to have the kind of mind that processes information into stories as a matter of reflex, not training. I suppose the only other purpose would be to meet others of a similar mindset, and get some feedback going. Dunno. That’s just my 2 cents.

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