Lately I noticed lots of people on Twitter talking about creative writing courses, so I decided to investigate. I tried to discover when creative writing courses started being taught, so I could rule out authors who lived before such courses were given. The answer was that creative writing courses were developed starting from the 1880's to the 1940's. Most of my favourite authors could potentially have attended such courses.
Next I tried to find out if the authors I admire ever attended such courses and what they thought of them. Several authors wrote tips for good writing for their fans, but I could only find two that definitely did attend a course themselves.
Frank Herbert (of Dune fame) met his second wife at a University of Washington creative writing class in 1946. At the time they were the only students in the class who had already sold their work for publication. Frank Herbert did not graduate from college, according to his son Brian, because he wanted to study only what interested him and so did not complete the required courses. Despite not completing his own degree in creative writing, Herbert taught general studies and interdisciplinary studies at the University of Washington between 1970 and 1972.
Stephen King had already published some stories before he went to study English at the University of Maine in 1966. After he graduated in 1970 he took part in a writing workshop organized by Burton Hatlen. Between 1977 and 1978 he taught creative writing at the University of Maine. Stephen King gave his opinion on creative writing courses during the BBC interview below.
I found a great article where various authors and people in the business are asked "Can you teach creative writing?" Both those in favour and against creative writing courses seem to agree on the same points, but where those against present only the problems, those in favour try to offer some solutions. The salient points of the article are presented below:
- Taking a creative writing course is no guarantee of publication; but it is absolutely possible to be successful without one
- Creative writing can be taught, but only by published writers
- People who don't read a lot rarely write well; the only way to learn is by reading other writers
- You can take a mediocre novelist and make them into a slightly better one, but a course can't make someone into a good writer, unless they are innately good anyway
- If you have ability and are willing to work hard, a course can help you to improve more quickly
- All writers approach the process differently, so you can't work from a pattern book
- Writing exercises can help students become more sensitive to the impact of different techniques
- Refining techniques could be useful for some
I think there is a lot to be learned by reading books, but some things are not obvious, so an aspiring author could benefit from a course. Today I read various lists of writing tips, and one that stood out for me was "Show, Don’t Tell". This means instead of saying a man was frightened, describe his thoughts and emotions to make the scene more vivid. There are exceptions to this, however my point is that this concept was not obvious to me just by reading books, but it does make sense, and it would be a great tip to use.
For now I think I'll start going through some free online courses, and maybe later I'll pay for one so I can get the all important feedback. What do you think of creative writing courses? Let me know in the comments box below.