Thursday, March 06, 2014

Are Creative Writing Courses a Waste of Time and Money?

Are creative writing courses worthwhile? Not according to Hanif Kureishi, an English professor at Kingston University whose debut novel, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) won the Whitbread first novel prize.

Speaking at the Independent Bath Literature festival last Sunday, Kureishi said:
“A lot of my students just can't tell a story. They can write sentences but they don't know how to make a story go from there all the way through to the end without people dying of boredom in between. It's a difficult thing to do and it's a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don't think you can," said Kureishi, according to the Independent, which sponsors the festival.
"A lot of them [students] don't really understand," said Kureishi. "It's the story that really helps you. They worry about the writing and the prose and you think: 'Fuck the prose, no one's going to read your book for the writing, all they want to do is find out what happens in the story next.'" He works with his own students, said Kureishi, "for a long time". "They really start to perk up after about three years. And after about five years they really realise something about writing. It's a very slow thing.  People go on writing courses for a weekend and you think, 'A weekend?'"
Nor is Kureishi the only one who feels that way:
Novelist and former creative writing teacher Lucy Ellmann, while disagreeing with Kureishi that style is unimportant, nevertheless described creative writing as "the biggest con-job in academia", and pointed to the poet August Kleinzahler's comment in the Guardian that "It's terrible to lie to young people. And that's what it's about."
"The whole system is set up to silence writers, and dupe students. It doesn't even provide a safe haven for writers, as Hanif made clear, because most universities go out of their way to ruin writers with admin, overwork, and other nonsense. There's lousy teaching too: I know of creative writing teachers who don't even read the students' work. This is criminal," said Ellmann. "But of course, the purpose of corporations - which is what universities now are - is to scupper originality and dissent.Universities have gone from being culture-preserving institutions to being culture-destroying institutions. And people queue up to pay these culture-destroying institutions £9000 a year to ensure that any idea of literature is destroyed before it can enter their heads."
If you want to write, said Ellmann, "what you should really be doing is reading as much good literature as you can get your hands on, for years and years, rather than wasting half your university life writing stuff you're not ready to write".
You can read the full story here.



Blogger Freya Robertson said...

I think it depends very much on the tutor. If you get a kind, thoughtful soul it can be the making of a writer, but equally someone harsh and critical can ruin your self confidence. I did a blogpost about it here, and I come to the conclusion that while creative writing courses certainly shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, it's not the only way to develop yourself as a writer, and crit groups or paying for an editor may actually be more useful. Thanks for an interesting article!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:49:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People do Creative Writing courses and degrees to get connected with the granting and prize winning industry and with people who will help them be published.

Of course, very few succeed even in becoming part of such a network, but those who do, have a better chance of winning and being published. Good luck trying to win a prize if you're aren't a Creative Writing grad or not recommended by a teacher.
And if you don't win any prizes, good luck getting any interest in your work.

This is the case with many degrees: you enroll to become part of an industry, a culture and a community. It's a network thing. It's a survival thing.

On another note. Many readers don't actually care so much about the story. All the stories have been told. It's the personality and flow of the writing that matters. That's why so many books can end poorly (most endings are disappointing) without the reader really caring. It's the overall experience of the writing, not simply the story plot points, that fascinates and entertains a reader. Story too, is part of it, of course, but that is not what is unique about writing and the experience of reading.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59:00 PM PDT  

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