I've never taken a course in creative writing. The number of fictional pieces I've written for courses, past the age of 15, I can count on one hand. So I don't have any idea what a course in creative writing might entail. (I have a cousin working on his second MFA in writing so maybe I should ask him sometime. Don't ask me, by the way, why someone needs two MFAs. I'm not even convinced one is worth the expense.)
Still, I found this piece in The Guardian and thought I'd share. There is also some great (and literate) discussion going on in the comments.
You can't teach creative writing. Can you?
It seems to be the same list of advice you see about writing in general ("show, don't tell," work from an outline even if you abandon it later, read the drafts aloud to yourself). It may be the case that some people benefit from hearing this in a classroom setting.
It may be that some people benefit from the peer critique element of writing courses. I hesitate to submit my own works to critique, or at least the critique that is available for free on the web (e.g. Book Country). Mostly because the content of the reviews is just not substantive enough to actually help me.
While I haven't taken creative writing courses, I've been in several courses where there were nonfiction (scientific writing, essays, and what have you) writing components. Peer review was involved. And while I went to great efforts to provide useful comments, the other students did a half-assed job, at best. (I got comments like "this is really good" or "you should format that reference differently" -- not at all useful.) Maybe I'm being unfair; I was basically an undercover Harvard graduate and these were students fresh out of high school -- there was an education gap as well as a maturity/age gap. (Long story how I ended up there, it's super off-topic so I won't share it now.)
If you look at websites like WattPad now, the "reviews" are useless. Book Country has a more intelligent community of users, overall, it seems. I happen to think I'm good at editing my own work; I have complained about so much in published novels in this blog, that I just start looking for the same sorts of errors in my own work (too much use of the same word or phrase, telling instead of showing, bad speaker attributions, scenes that don't add anything to the story, scenes that ought to be included but aren't, stuff that was boring to write and is probably boring to read, etc.). I KNOW that sometimes my writing is bad. But I also know that I get lots of chances, after the fact, to improve it. I spend far more time editing than I do writing the first draft. (I suppose the true test will be whether a publisher actually offers me a contract. I'm not so naive and full of hubris to know I'll get accepted by the first one I submit to. I hope, and I put forth my best effort, but now it's out of my hands.)
But I've digressed. I suppose my original point was that writing courses can be good for people who learn better from a person than from a book (I've always been more of a book learner). Whether a teacher is effective is also a big part of the students' success, as one of the commenters to the Guardian piece points out. And whether the students have the right attitude is also key. If you think you're so great on the first draft that you don't need to revise, your work will never see the light of day. (There's nary a sentence from my first manuscript that got left alone.)
But you can write a technically perfect piece that still fails to inspire. You can teach the fundamentals of sentence structure, grammar, usage, spelling, dialogue construction. But you can't make something fun to read. A boring idea or a boring story is still boring, even if it's written well. All the flowery, literary language in the world can't disguise that. And coming up with interesting, original ideas is the part that really can't be taught.
Okay, back to working on my own manuscript. I'm about to leave one group of characters behind to focus on some others for awhile. It'll be a change of pace, that's for sure.