Arts Investigates: Can Creative Writing Really Be Taught?

As a first-year English student studying Creative Writing as my subsidiary module, we have pondered in some detail over the discussion of whether creative writing can really be taught as a subject, or if it is entirely dependent upon individual skill and talent. In my opinion there are valid arguments both for and against the teaching of creative writing which invite further exploration.

On the one hand, it can be pointed out that creativity is natural and innate; in many respects it is not a learned skill. Unfortunately, the imagination required to write creatively cannot be taught. Also, each creative work is unique and distinctive, therefore studying the work of other writers is only helpful to a certain extent. There are many writers who didn’t need training to do their job, so why should we? Teaching creative writing can be seen as ruining one’s originality rather than harnessing it, forcing students to pigeon-hole their work into distinct categories and completing writing activities which they may have no interest in.

“Everyone looks for different things and has different tastes”

Creative writing is a highly subjective area, therefore this creates difficulties when marking pieces of coursework etc. Everyone looks for different things and has different tastes in short stories, poetry and plays, for example, so how are we to judge another’s work objectively? It is increasingly hard to offer advice for improvement to someone when their work is their own vision and creation. Moreover, writing relies on self-motivation and inspiration, so it can become both troublesome and tiresome to meet the demands of schedules of such courses. Many writers would argue that in some cases their work is never fully complete, so knowing when to finish editing a piece is hard to judge, and setting an un-negotiable deadline for this can be detrimental. Furthermore, it is evident that creative writing courses may restrict budding writers in some ways.

“Crucial creative processes such as planning, evaluating and editing work can definitely be taught effectively”

Alternatively, there are many obvious advantages of completing creative writing courses.  They offer students the opportunity to practice their writing skills and introduce them to new forms, techniques and styles of writing. For example, I had never even considered writing in a play script format before I began studying Creative Writing at university, therefore I have broadened my knowledge of this area significantly. Crucial creative processes such as planning, evaluating and editing work can definitely be taught effectively, moreover this proves that it is not solely writing itself that is focused upon.

“How can you expect to be a good writer if you never read?”

Personally, I think that it is highly useful to analyse the work of others and draw influence from experienced and successful writers, both past and present. After all, how can you expect to be a good writer if you never read? There is nothing wrong with admiring the work of other writers to aid your own writing, in fact this can be incredibly beneficial. It can help an individual to work out what they like and what they don’t like, what works for them and what doesn’t.

“It is very important to think critically about your own work”

It is also worth noting that gaining feedback on marked work is vital for development. By studying a creative writing module, experts in the field can give both general and specific guidance to help improve many different areas of your writing. Learning from such individuals can help aspiring writers to avoid pitfalls and bad techniques. In his book, Doing Creative Writing, Steve May reasons that it makes sense to learn about creative writing by those who know what they’re talking about. Just like you would learn maths from a mathematics teacher, why should creative writing be any different? In a similar way to this, it is very important to think critically about your own work, and I believe such studies encourage this kind of critical thinking.

“I think creative writing can and should be taught at degree level”

Despite both corners making convincing cases, I think creative writing can and should be taught at degree level. This type of course provides amateur writers with a direct outlet to practice their abilities, forcing them to make time for their own writing. Completing this module has given me the confidence and the facilities to develop my writing and discover new ways of writing at the same time, which I haven’t previously received in my education.

Sophie Hunt

Image credit: Sophie Hunt

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