If You Can (write) Do; If You Can't, Teach!

Posted at 11:05am on 9th March 2010

I came across an article, recently, which stated that creative writing courses for aspiring authors are a ‘racket’ - and I wondered what you think?


The author of the post pointed out that among hundreds of writing tips offered by dozens of authors, not one suggested taking a creative writing course. The implication was that if you need to sit around being taught about writing, you’re never going to make it as a great writer or novelist. What you will become, the writer continued, is a teacher of creative writing!


It is, she continued, nothing more than pyramid selling, whereby teachers impart their knowledge of writing to aspiring authors who have little hope of becoming established writers but who, in turn, become teachers of creative writing to other aspiring authors. In other words, the whole cyclical system thrives on pretence!


It’s transpires that it’s all about university funding! So it’s good for the teaching establishments (who need to attract students in order to attract funding) and it’s good for established writers who need to top up their income.

Taking a creative writing course has the potential of earning students / established writers a doctorate. This gives them the qualification they need to teach – even though some of them may have little in the way of credentials as writers! This, of course, gives credence to the old adage: If you can (write), do; if you can’t, teach. The whole enterprise is, thus, self-perpetuating.


So much for Lisa Pryor’s article, A Novel Idea Turns Creative Writing Into An Academic Racket. But in my experience there’s nothing like being able to talk – or in the case of the internet, correspond – with a real live author. I had the privilege of working as PA to Paul Gallico – the American author of, among other things, The Snow Goose and The Poseidon Adventure. But for those without such contacts, a creative writing courses at least bring aspiring authors in touch with established writers.


What’s more, I’m not sure that I agree with the idea that if you need to be taught the art of creative writing then you’re never going to become a great novelist. That implies that you’re either born a writer, or you’re not! But my argument is that whatever talent you may have, it will always benefit from study, analysis, editing and honing. And much of that may only be acquired via a course.


Think of the Bible – where Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan and other classical writers found much of their inspiration on life – which states that the man who took his talent and buried it deserved nothing, whereas the one who invested and multiplied it was blessed with yet more talents. So my advice, if you’re planning on writing and publishing a book, is to do everything you can to invest in your work and multiply your talent. In which case, you may find you benefit from my articles on creative writing.

Do let me know what you think. Have you’ve ever taken a creative writing course, or are you planning to do so? How - if at all – have you found it to be helpful? And how beneficial is it compared to merely reading about your craft?

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Author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. This article, in its original form, can be found at http://www.melmenzies.co.uk/

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