Are Creative Writing Classes Worth the Time and Money?

Ever since I enrolled in the first MLitt in Creative Writing offered by the University of Stirling, I’ve read with interest the various opinions of the value or otherwise of creative writing programmes. I’d already written two novels before I started the course and many might argue that I didn’t need to pay thousands of pounds to become a writer. Surely all you need is a pen and paper? There’s constant criticism that you can’t teach people to write, but you can learn the craft of writing and this was what I needed to help me write to the best of my ability.

Kathleen Jamie

In last week’s Arts Supplement in the Glasgow Herald, Rosemary Goring, openly sceptical about creative writing classes, interviewed Kathleen Jamie, a renowned poet and the Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Stirling. When asked if creative writing classes are a waste of time and money, Professor Jamie’s reply to Goring was to calm down and that students were “not designing missile systems”. She’s absolutely right, but words can be powerful and dangerous too and I’d like to think the course has taught us at least that much.

Angela Hughes

But rather than read about my experience again, I thought it would be a welcome change to find out what the course meant to one of my fellow students, the lovely Angela Hughes, who made us smile week in week out with her quirky and quaint take on the world. Here’s Angela’s account of the course ‘Mastering Creative Writing.’

It’s Wednesday, it’s 4pm – and no it isn’t Crackerjack; and yes I am that old – it’s time to join my fellow MLitt Creative Writing victims, oops, I mean students, in our weekly Writers’ Workshop. Five students breathe easily, two look nervous – I’m one of the two whose turn it is to have their work critiqued by our tutor, Paula Morris, and the rest of the group.

Paula Morris

Someone coughs, another giggles, and I sit quietly, avoiding eye contact and hoping that the Valium will kick in soon. Tension builds, papers rustle; my work is summarised by another student, and we’re off.For half an hour I say nothing – well not out loud though there may be some below-the-breath muttering, and the group looks at things such as character, plot, dialogue and point-of-view. If you think that to remain silent while my work is discussed is daunting, you’d be right. It’s not easy to have your writing come under such close scrutiny, especially when you’re in the room, and especially when you’re banned from shouting out ‘that’s not what I meant, surely you can see that … come on!’ But the feedback is balanced and constructive and has definitely helped me develop as a writer.

At Stirling the Creative Writing options included The Art of Fiction, a walk-through of the technical aspects of the craft, and a Short Story module to provide an interesting background to the writing tradition. In addition, we read voraciously and considered writers from Jorge Luis Borges to William Trevor, Alice Munro and James Salter; no I hadn’t heard of some of them either but trust me they’re worth a look, particularly William Trevor who I now have a literary crush on but hey, that’s a whole other story!

Throw in an inspiring master class with Booker Prize Winner DBC Pierre; visits from the Royal Literary Fellows and a literary agent; and talks by Andrew O’Hagan and New Zealand poet Bill Manhire, and you can see why I enjoyed it so much. It’s hard work but it’s been a privilege to share my writing journey with others – the community spirit has, and continues to be, incredible, Paula is supportive and encouraging, and nestled amongst the nervous chortling there have been lots of laugh-out-loud moments. Try a creative writing class, enjoy it, have some fun – go on, you know you want to!

The class of 11/12- rising stars in the literary world!
L-R we have Paul Docherty, Angela Hughes, Sophie Gitzinger, Ethyl Smith, Paula Morris, our brilliant tutor, little old me, Stephen Stewart and Sharon MacDonald

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7 Responses to Are Creative Writing Classes Worth the Time and Money?

  1. Anyone who has ever attended any kind of creative writing class will know that people always ask the question “Can you teach writing?”. (I’ve written about this on my blog). I usually answer that it isn’t about ‘teaching’ writing but about immersing yourself in a writing community, where people care about books and the writing process and want to learn more and get better at it.

  2. Jo Carroll says:

    I’m glad you got so much out of this. My experiences are mixed – a great group moves my writing on in ways I cannot imagine. But others – less so. It’s difficult – until you go and try you simply don’t know if your fellow-writers will be supportive as well as constructively critical. (I’ve known one group tear everything to pieces; and another agree that everything was wonderful!)

  3. Interesting questions here. I don’t know if it’s possible to teach ANYONE to write – presumably like anything else there are those whose talents lie in absolutely anything but writing – but I do firmly believe CW classes can help people who do have something going for them to improve, to learn from others and perhaps most importantly, to find motivation to actually produce something on a regular basis.
    I wouldn’t be where I am now (which technically, is ‘nowhere’ but by which I mean having completed one novel and now writing a second) if I hadn’t dipped my toe in 3 and a half years ago by signing up to a beginners’ class at City Lit. Some classes will be better than others and to a great extent that depends who turns up. If you don’t try, you’ll never know!

  4. SallyJ says:

    I took some courses with the OU – they were great for me because they were online. With hindsight, I think the most important part of the course, apart from consolidation of technique, was the interaction between students and learning to give and take (constructive) criticism.

    • I agree Sally. I found it quite hard to give and take criticism throughout the course, especially when writing is so personal but there is a huge benefit if you’re part of the right group.

  5. Pingback: It's a tough job... | Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling | Postgraduate Publishing Degrees

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