Posts Tagged ‘Creative Writing Course’

On completing school, there was speculation among my nearest and dearest as to whether, given my interests, I’d study Arts or Creative Writing. With almost zero hesitation, I opted for Arts, because while the idea of writing stories for three years seemed superficially appealing, I couldn’t see what it would achieve. Creative writing degrees don’t guarantee publication; neither can they vouch for literary smarts, and they certainly don’t help in getting a day-job. By nature, their effect is paradoxical: confident writers will find them unnecesary, while a degree can’t help the trully unskilled. This leaves a very slim margin for potential students – confident writers wanting to brush up their skills, and general non-writers looking for a creative outlet. On both counts, the end qualification is largely redundant, which makes any benefit ancillary to the actual course structure.

I was unsurprised, therefore, to hear Hanif Kureishi’s views on the matter. Tell a lie – I was surprised by his opinion that on-campus shooting incidents in America are typically the work of creative writing students, but that was it.

It’s rare you’ll find an author who endorses creative writing degrees as a means to success (“rare” here meaning “I’ve never heard one say so”). While workshops with established writers are undoubtably helpful, writing requires a base level of talent and enthusiasm that cannot be manufactured. As with art or musical composition, one cannot simply rock up to a job agency and say, “I want a career as an author. Preferably crime fiction, but I’m willing to take biography or science.” Which is why the creative fields – journalism included – are so dog-eat-dog: formal qualifications are no means of gauging talent. You can have three degrees from leading universities, but that doesn’t mean you can tell a story, sculpt a statue, write a sizzling article or play the sax. In areas dominated by self-education, what matters is your ability to fight through the slew of equally determined, comparably talented hopefuls, not whether you got a B on your latest story.

Such struggling, underdoggish, exclusionary battle-tactics exemplify both the best and worst of the arts world. On the one hand, anyone with self-belief and a scrap of talent can have a shot at brilliance. On the other, luck, nepotism and soul-crushing tenacity have more to do with success than a fair comparison of applicants. This is the slushpile effect: without an inbuilt mechanism for sifting the worthwhile from the awful, any Joe Muck can submit a manuscript, clog up an audition or otherwise tread on a talented aspirant’s toes with impunity.

Pardon me. I think I feel an urge to run screaming into the night.