Friday 9 January 2009

Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

We can certainly be taught the rules of language, proper syntax, perhaps even what constitutes a tasteful distribution of commas and semicolons in a paragraph. We can be taught how to write up a vertiginous argument in stylish and spare prose. But can we be taught to write a short story, a novel? And if so, how?

Creative writers have emerged prior to formal education in creative writing. Unlike in sculpture and painting, where apprenticeship with a more experienced artists was often possible, writing literature seems to have been a lonely task. Writers read and writers wrote.

Classes in creative writing often focus on encouraging students to generate a piece of their own and then provide generous feedback on the work of others. Teachers, often writers themselves, give suggestions, sometimes even rules, for brainstorming, drafting, editing. There are rules for everything but the thing itself. It is an interesting model that would not do well for other subjects – a biology teacher would not leave students to figure our how to dissect a frog on their own, and provide them with a feedback of their success or failure afterwards. The model works because, as teachers of creative writing classes know, there are no production rules for a magnificent piece of literature. And while it is the case that writing will not necessarily make you a writer, there is no other way to become a writer but to write.

So, creative writing class or no, the only thing for an aspiring writer to do is what aspiring writers have done for millennia. Read. Write. And hope for the best.

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