Writing creatively; to learn or not to learn?

As an aspiring writer and avid reader I attend author talks, read the papers, surf the web and I’m always coming across the same old dragging argument and it aggravates me no end. Whether, as you are ‘aspiring’, you should attend writing classes, or even once you are published whether you should continue to.

So my first question to those wondering if they should or not is; do you have the confidence to step out into the world, with your work? 

In fact I have a series of questions, that break the one above down.

Do you trust yourself? Do you trust your abilities?

Do you trust your piece of work? 

Better still, do you know that piece of work? Are you able to explain and defend it in under 5 minutes to Joe public? Without waffling? without using technical terminology?

The reason I ask is because six years ago I didn’t. I knew I could write; I knew I had ideas ready to pen but I had no idea where to turn or how to articulate some of those fragmented ideas. Even with two journalism and creative projects during my Bachelors and three publishing internships under my belt – with direct access to the publishing industry through my contacts – I wasn’t in full grasp of the knowledge I needed.

Some people think you don’t need to be taught to write, so why bother with a creative writing class? Talent is talent and that is that, leave it up to the agency or editor to pick through silly mistakes. Not only that, can creative writing or writing in general, even be taught? Well yes all right, talent is talent, and that is certainly something that cannot be taught but, in answer: why leave it to someone to have to interpret what you are trying to say, because you’ve written it without considering anything but the idea in your head? There’s every chance it will not make sense to any one but you.

I’ll throw that opinion out the window and say this: doing a Masters in Creative and Media writing gave me an insight into writing I’d have never gained on my own and say hell yes it can be taught – so long as you have the talent to build on. It’s one thing to know what narrators tell which point of view, its another to give them a personality, plus sometimes being told to give dialogue to a different character you were expecting to, creates new perspectives. And frankly it wasn’t until then that I actually learnt to start having confidence in my own ability and use grammar properly!

Small things like getting grammar right, knowing the concepts of the five W’s – a journalistic godsend if you ask me – work even in creative writing. It creates the bigger picture. It stops you fretting over the silly details and allows you to focus on that bigger picture or tweak the tiny nuances in the narrative instead. I will admit however, to messing with grammar just to change that particular sentences’ meaning. Having the ability to step back and analyse isn’t in everyone’s nature and that is something these courses can often advise you on, if not drill it into you.

Yes the classes were about the techniques, pit-falls and learning about how to craft a narrative, things that can be learnt just  by picking up most ‘how to publish’ or ‘how to write’ self-help books but they were also about laughter, discovering ingenious plots and defending ridiculous ideas. As we wrote our weekly assignments we discussed why other writers had written as they had, why it affected us in different ways and why we’d do something else instead. We argued and debated, spent hours in the pub reading each others characters (to hilarious effect most weeks) and used dutch courage to stand up in front of strangers and read our writing aloud. Without classes in poetry, fiction and theatre running alongside and then cross-contaminating each other I suspect my descriptive or dialogue skills would still be floundering in the realm of the unknown. Something you can’t forget about is the audience, if you want to publish or produce a novel or script then you are writing for an audience – if that audience is your own age, gender, race, class etc, then fine but remember; your audience has to get it for it to mean anything in the big bad world.

Completely off topic but if only one thing came out of theatre, then it was a character I invented called Hargreaves who we all loved and hated in equal measure. One day I’ll find a home for him!

Even a one day course – if you get the right one for you – can help immensely. Having a conversation never hurt anyone really did it? It might be painful, you might not completely do as they suggest, but its there to help and something might change for the better.

In fact, in many ways I still don’t have all that confidence – it is forever a work in progress. I still balk at the idea of giving up my work to anyone and I’ve only just begun completing a full length novel, six years after writing the first three chapters! I’ll admit, life of a 20 something year old got in the way, it is surprising just how much depression and unemployment, relationships, eventual employment and trivia just completely take over. Yet without that year of carefully crafting techniques and ideas I wouldn’t be able to finish what I started.

I would gladly take up more courses, this time day ones.

Rant over I think, and hopefully my soap box moment might help a few wondering if they should do it, decide.


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