When I was in high school, I was adamant that I would never take a creative writing class. The pointers we received in English classes always seemed pointless and inapplicable to my own writing — creative writing wasn’t something that could be easily passed on from student to teacher. The best writing teacher, I thought, would be reading as many books as possible.
I still, to a large extent, think this. At the same time, I’m happily enrolled in a creative writing class. So, why the change of heart?
For me, it came about because I felt something was missing from my English major. I was being assessed on my ability to critically read and engage with texts, but not my ability to construct them, and as a result I felt like I wasn’t learning as much as I possibly could be about words. So I finally took the plunge this semester and enrolled in a creative writing class.
While I am actually — and somewhat surprisingly — getting a lot out of my class, I still don’t think creative writing classes are for everyone. In fact, they could actually be hugely detrimental to some people’s processes. So, what are the advantages and pitfalls of creative writing classes?
Firstly, and I think this comes up in a lot of posts about writing classes, if you’re studying creative writing at the tertiary level there does seem to be a preference amongst academics for literary writing. My own program is not like this, so I haven’t run into any problems on that front (although, admittedly, my writing tends to lean that way, anyway), but it would probably be a good idea to work out based on the experience of past students or what lecturers have published whether the program you’re considering is riddled with literary snobs.
The second thing that can be a pitfall for some is that writing classes often expect you to experiment with various styles. For someone like me who had become quite comfortable with novel writing, switching to forms like poetry and short stories can be really difficult. Whether or not this is a pitfall or an advantage, though, is entirely dependent on your perspective as a writer. I have wanted, for a long time, to get outside of my comfort zone, so the experimentation has had benefits for me.
Another major issue that turns a lot of students away from taking creative writing is, obviously, grades. My lecturer is always telling us to ‘be selfish’ about the course, but if you’re someone who is particularly concerned about their grades, it becomes harder in a writing course to do what you want and use the course to benefit yourself. You can easily become caught up in trying to cater to the demands of the classes by writing in a particular, favoured genre or in a certain style or voice that does not come naturally to you. If grades are an issue for you, then you might want to steer clear of such a subjective class.
Lastly, how much you get out of writing courses can depend on your personality. Workshopping is probably the key feature of most creative writing courses, but some writers are far too shy to handle in-person feedback. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable responding to people’s questions about your work, or asking pointed questions, or receiving harsh feedback face-to-face then you might not be cut out for creative writing classes. Of course, there are people like me who absolutely think that they’re too shy for workshopping but who wind up really enjoying it and benefitting from it — I think it’s really something you just have to try once or twice, to see whether it works for you.
For me, creative writing classes have been beneficial because they’ve allowed me to get outside my comfort zone as a writer, but this doesn’t mean that classes don’t have their pitfalls or that they’re suited to everyone.
If you’ve taken a creative writing class, what was your experience like? If you haven’t, do you think you’d ever be interested in taking one in the future?
Vahini Naidoo is a University student from Canberra, Australia. She spends inordinate amounts of time consuming instant noodles and novels. Her debut, Fall to Pieces, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. You can read more of her rambly thoughts on her blog.