I have been extremely snarky on the subject of teaching creative writing and on creative writing courses. You can track through old posts here, here and here, if you’re interested.
On Mondays, I generally look at something from the Sunday papers to talk about, and today is no exception, except that I found something to interest me in Saturday’s Guardian. The Review section was headed up with So you want to be a writer? and the first section included contributions from several writers who teach creative writing.
One of those was Jeanette Winerson, who is Professor of Creative Writing at Manchester University. I liked what she had to say about creative writing when she took up the post in 2012 and I quoted her in this post.
I’m going to quote her in full here, because, for me this is what it should all be about. If you must take a creative writing course, for goodness sake take hers or, at the very least, one that has a similar philosophy.
On the other hand, if you’re not in a position to take her course, or to take any course, or if, like me, you don’t much want to take a course, and you are a writer, it’s worth reading this anyway.
This is what she had to say:
- I don’t give a shit what’s in your head. By which I mean if it isn’t on the page it doesn’t exist. The connection between your mind and the reader’s mind is language. Reading is not telepathy.
- I don’t care whether you like the texts we study or you don’t. Like or dislike is a personal thing and tells me something about you, but nothing about the text. If you don’t think something is well written, convince me. If you do think so, convince me. Learn from everything you read and understand how to learn from everything you read. And above all read! My classes use texts I am pretty sure they won’t know because I want them to see how wide is the world of books and thought and imagination. I am trying to reposition them in relation to, in response to, language.
- Writing is a love affair not a solitary pleasure. You can write about anything you like but there must be a connection between you and the material.
- Do not take any ‘advice’ on how to write from anyone who has not written and published a significant piece of work. (Ezra Pound was right.)
The woman gives good advice.
I don’t necessarily envy her students, but I am willing to bet that they’re getting the benefit of one of the best courses of its type anywhere.
For the rest of us, the lesson is right there: Read and write! Oh, and be careful where you take advice from.
For what it’s worth, I’ve looked at quite a lot of writing courses, including short courses and many of them are taught by individuals who have not ‘written and published a significant piece of work.’ Go figure.