Okay, so I’m just going to write one more thing about the process of learning to write – and thank you for your interest in the plotting post which took me by surprise, and I’m sorry if this makes you roll your eyes and go, ‘Oh my God, that woman is taking narcissism to whole new heights’, I’m just sorting a few things out in my mind and then I’ll go back to the washing (sheets, several of – youngest boy who has never, not once that I remember, ever wet the bed before, did it twice last night, though admittedly, the first time was when they’d just got into bed and instead of going straight to sleep like they were asked to do, they were messing around as they are wont to do, and eldest boy made youngest boy laugh so much he wet himself). Though as you will see, I didn’t actually sort much out.
I want to write a quick something about creative writing courses and in particular creative writing courses at university and in particular about the question, ‘Can creative writing be taught’.
I myself have desperately wanted to enrol in such a course, but have not been able to justify the fees, especially because when I have enquired, scholarships are not available for part time study and full time study has been impossible for me over the last few years. I have whinged about this quite a lot, and it has not been uncommon for people to say to me, ‘But you can’t teach creative writing’.
Of course this is ridiculous. No teacher could provide you with the spark (of talent, desire, natural tendencies or whatever it is) whether your field be maths, music, history or dance, but a teacher of anything can provide you with an objective eye and guidance based on knowledge and experience. And until I wrote this post, I thought I would be writing about why my experiences provide a perfect example of what is to be gained from enrolling in an MA or PhD programme. That is what I intended to write about.
Why would my experiences provide a perfect example? Because while many people did point me in the way of learning to plot, none of them (until I reached the agent and editor stage) had the job of providing guidance in a sustained, long-term way. As I said in my plotting post, I came across a good number (three or four) of excellent people who provided excellent advice in one form or another, but none of them were in the context of repetitive rigour. None of them had the job of waving their arms in the air and saying, No, no, you’re not listening, go back and try it again.
It is true that enrolling in university does not guarantee rigorous guidance. Much hinges not only on the assigned teacher, but on the relationship between the teacher and the student. I did write a 40,000 word thesis for my MA (in development studies, not creative writing), so I understand the complexities of this relationship. While I had one completely uninterested supervisor, the other was generous with both intellect and time and taught me a lot. And then, of course, if the relationship is going to work, the student has a responsibility to be receptive and flexible and willing to experiment with new methods and to not lead their teacher to too often say, No, no, you’re not listening.
But if all these things are in place – interested teacher, interested student, respectful relationship (stop laughing, PC) – then I reckon a creative writing course would be invaluable. Because yes, plotting can be taught and I imagine so can a lot of other things.
Now, I have always know that I idealise both the teacher-student relationship and learning, but a bit of idealising has never bothered me. Both my parents were passionate teachers and my mother was also a passionate learner (not that they would teach me anything – the cobbler’s children have no shoes – and not that I would let them teach me anything – kids these days).
But in writing this post, I have begun to think that maybe my idealism has left me educationally dysfunctional. I hardly dare to do anything if I haven’t first studied it. Under someone else’s guidance. I have a BA, two Grad Dips, an MA, and half a Grad Cert (over half of this pre-Dawkins and the other half in New Zealand when it was still reasonably cheap). This could be an eldest child thing. I don’t push boundaries and I do what I’m told.
And here is the point where I started to think that I’ve written myself into a total pickle because until I wrote that sentence about my ‘qualifications’ (which I had not known I was going to write and have written and deleted three times now), I fully intended to conclude with a sentence along the lines of, ‘And that’s why creative writing courses are ace’.
I still think they’re ace, but maybe it’s been good for me to work outside a formal study environment. Maybe I’ve learnt more about learning than I might otherwise have done.
So, the best moral I can come up with is: eat your beans.