Thursday, May 12, 2011

Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

Recently the blog DIY MFA posted a question "Can Creative Writing be Taught?" in response to an article written in The Guardian tackling the same question. It's interesting how many people get wrapped into all sorts of knots over this issue.

To Degree or not to Degree.
To Dare to Dream, or Not.

As if answering this age old question in the world of creative writing and publishing would put a lot of people out of their misery, and usher up the chosen few to the front of the line.

You know.
Those guys.
The ones with 'talent'.

I suppose my official (and short) response to "Can Creative Writing Be Taught?" would be: Yes.Yes it can.

The considerably longer response: I myself have learned creative writing. And I still am learning. Not just through tertiary learning institutions though, but from all sorts of places and people. I read essays, writer's magazines, blogs, online articles, newsletters and take workshops. And, most importantly, I read books. I read lots, and lots, of books. Especially those in the genres in which I am interested in writing. Show me an urban fantasy book and the transformation will amaze you. If urban fantasy was a cookie, I'd be cookie monster - but without the blue fur. Just normal man fur.

I also read a lot of non-fiction books on the art and craft of writing. The local library is full of books published by known and unknown authors on how to write, how to unlock creativity, how to structure the next big Dan Brown-esque novel, etc. Some of the best and most useful books I've found include "Booklife" by Jeff Vandermeer and "Artist in the Office" by Summer Pierre.

Learning creative writing is not about reaching a destination. Joyce Carol-Oates is not going to magically appear in a puff of literary smoke and hand you a laminated card with the words "REAL CREATIVE WRITER" written on it in big, bold, black letters. To learn writing - to learn any art - is an ongoing process on which you embark. It does not happen right away. You've got to be passionate, you've got to have determination, you've got to have the spirit and guts and balls to say "Yes, I can learn."

And the moment you think to yourself "I have arrived!" - you have failed. Just because you have a degree, it doesn't mean you can write, or get published. And just because you're published, doesn't mean that people like you. And if people do like you, and you've got a New York Times Bestselling Novel, you might still kind of suck.

Keep walking, keep journeying, keeping writing, and your craft and skills will grow with you. Every time I get a new issue of Writer's Digest, every time I sit down and write a poem on my napkin, every time I read a book, I learn something new about writing. It never stops. It's crazy.

Ever played Pokemon? That game where you run around catching monsters, and raise them slowly so they gain magical powers?
If you have not, I recommend you try. The analogy helps.

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