First on the panel was Genni Gunn (Click here) who agreed that writing can't be taught without teaching reading. She is, she said, a firm believer in the idea of craft. Just as one has to put in 10,000 hours to become a good pianist, so you do to become a good writer and, as with playing the piano, craft and technique can be taught. Sometimes, for writers, this process is short circuited by too-early affirmation. Courses can help writers to become better readers and, once you have studied the craft, you can better appreciate what you read. You become better able to articulate things you may have known, but not known explicitly. Teachers and editors should not mince words, but they should also be encouraging.
The second person on the panel was Tim Wynne-Jones (click here) who thought that the format of some creative writing courses, of meeting intensely for 10 days and then going home and writing and communicating, was good. He recommended learning to write through emulation. You should study and emulate a writer you admire. And, even if you can't learn to write, you can learn to re-write. You can produce a novel that has been touched by many hands. When he is teaching, he says, he constantly asks: "What is the motivation of this character?" One can't stress this enough, he said. He was shocked one day to receive a letter from the editor of one of his books in which the editor asked: "What is the motivation of this character?"
The third person on the panel was Ania Szado (click here). She said that people join a Master of Fine Arts program to achieve a publishable piece. She had been working on her second novel but not getting anywhere. She wouldn't have done all the work necessary, reading and writing, if she had not done a Master of Fine Arts program. In visual art, there is respect for folk-art, and a market. There is the equivalent of this in self-published on-line pieces, she said. Perhaps we are developing a respectable folk-art tradition in writing, which may mean that creative writing programs become less important.
Image: MFA Creative Writing Program, University of Guelph