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Archive for the tag “creative writing”

Can anyone write?

creative-writingIt’s an odd thing. When I mention at a party, or some other gathering, that I occasionally teach creative writing courses, people quite often put a sceptical smile on their faces and ask me whether creative writing can really be taught. Now, I’ve never heard anyone ask whether science can be taught, or dancing, or yoga, or French.

Of course creative writing can be taught. What can’t be guaranteed is that someone enrolling in a creative writing course will become a successful novelist, poet or playwright. Just as taking science or French at school, or even at university, doesn’t mean you are going to become a nuclear physicist or a translator at the UN. As far as I know nobody in my weekly yoga class is aspiring to becoming a Hatha guru. And even though Anne Widdecombe was (eventually) able to master a few dance moves in Strictly, nobody seemed to expect her (or indeed any of the other contestants) to be the next Flavia Cacace.

So what is it that makes people treat creative writing differently? There seem to be two somewhat contradictory attitudes. First is the commonly held belief that almost anyone could write if they only put their mind to it. Several writers I know have complained of people who say things like ‘I’d write a novel if I had the time.’ The second is that the ability to write is somehow innate and no amount of classes or lectures is going to make any difference.

There may be an element of truth in both these positions. It’s a difficult one to prove either way. But I feel that if someone is drawn towards creativity, (just as some people prefer Maths to English,) that interest/talent should be nurtured. It would be a poor art teacher who, finding a child able to represent a 3D figure instead of a stick picture, just said, ‘oh there you go, you obviously know how to do it,’ and then leave them to their own devices. That cavalier approach might work for the child prodigy, but most of us would expect any self respecting teacher to give some advice on form, style, appropriate media etc.

As far as I can see it is pretty much the same with creative writing. Yes, some people may have more natural ability than others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from some understanding of how to handle story structure, characterisation, tension, imagery etc. Some writers, especially the ones who are also prolific and analytical readers, may glean these skills from other people’s books. But for others a creative writing course, or a good ‘how to’ book would at the very least save some potentially time wasting trial and error, and perhaps some disappointment too. Not everyone is going to win an Oscar for best screenplay, but in my view a few handy building blocks and a bit of helpful advice never goes amiss in any venture.

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No time to read?

time to readIt’s an odd phenomenon. Everyone is writing novels. It almost seems as if more people are writing them than reading them. Certainly that is the impression you get if you take a quick look at Twitter.

The problem is that having written them these new writers expect other people to read them. And they are bitterly disappointed when readers either don’t buy them or don’t enjoy them.

So why are so many people exposing themselves to almost inevitable disappointment?

In any other artistic endeavour aspiring wannabes generally feel they might need a bit of training – art school perhaps, or dance classes, or at the very least some singing or acting lessons; but with writing, of course, if you know how to hold a pen or navigate a keyboard, anyone can do it. Rustle up a story line, string 60,000+ words together and de da! you’ve written a novel!

And it’s so easy to publish now. You no longer have to wait months for an agent or publisher to deign to read your submission, your alluring approach letter, your agonisingly brief synopsis, your oh so manicured first three chapters, let alone wait another eternity for the remote possibility that they might condescend to see the rest. No, nowadays as soon as the last word is written you can hop onto KDP and by the next day your masterpiece is up on Amazon and ready to sell.

In the old days it was almost unheard of for a writer to get their first book published (most successful authors have several rejected manuscripts languishing in a bottom drawer somewhere). Now, (because they do it themselves,) it is the norm. And that’s fine, readers have a choice, they can sort out for themselves what they want to read and what to avoid. They can read the first few chapters before buying so they know what they are letting themselves in for.

But it does mean that many of the hopeful writers of those un-crafted, unpolished, sadly unstructured novels are going to be disappointed.

So what’s the solution? Well, not everyone can take an MA in Creative Writing, not everyone has access to good local writing courses. But there are lots of books about writing around. And of course, the biggest learning tool of them all, there are lots of excellent novels around too.

Reading is the key. And not just reading, analysing too, why a certain character comes alive on the page, why a particular scene seems so powerful, why you can’t stop turning the pages.

In the kind of market we have now it is even more important than ever to write a really good book. There is simply too much competition for anything less. So my advice to new writers is to read (and preferably in a range of genres and styles), to practice, hone your craft and not to publish until you are absolutely sure that you have created a well structured, readable, engaging, well edited novel that potential readers simply won’t be able to put down.

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