Creative Writing Quals – Do We Need Them?

I’m asking, seriously, not necessarily in a perjorative sense.

My heart sinks, when I’m reading stories on ezines I’m hoping to sub to and I see that the writers they do publish have either attained a creative writing qualification or are in the throes of one. Surely, I used to think, literature is what comes out naturally, original, untrammelled by convention, and in a style which is the writer’s – possibly very quirky – own. After all, GBS dispensed with apostrophes, so why couldn’t I take a few liberties with English grammar and punctuation?

And I like to start sentences with ‘And’ and ‘But’. I sometimes find very short paragraphs effective:

Like this.

I am someone who has written for years but never subbed properly until a few years ago, and… now, at my advanced age, dear… I feel I’ve got to get on with it. A few years ago, I joined several online writing communities, all different in their own way and all approaching the business of writing with varied levels of seriousness. As soon as I posted my stuff, I started to become aware of some of ‘the rules’: thou shalt not use adverbs, nor passive mood, nor use brackets, nor start with speech, nor repeat words; thou shalt useth three dots only after an ellipis; thou shalt spelleth ‘OK’ as ‘okay’; thou shalt show not tell etc etc… and I drunk all this in undigested. Then I examined what I was reading and I saw that sometimes… many times… a lot of the time… rules are made to be broken.

Nevertheless, I have learned a lot from writing communities – and continue to do so. I had pointed out to me some bad habits which I had been ignoring for decades, using ‘and’ too much, for instance, and ‘now’ and ‘suddenly’. I found that, even though I am a very emotional person myself, I wasn’t putting this across. Members of writing communities reviewing my work found some of it dry of feeling, even the passages where I was ‘feeling’ a lot of ‘feeling’ while writing it. In retrospect, I realise that this is the natural consequence of… dare I say it?… suddenly… sharing my writing with other people, after allowing it to hibernate for so long. The experience was salutory, very much so.

I have seen it written that, just as you would expect to be taught how to play a musical instrument, so you need to be tutored in how to write. Having once learned the clarinet, I don’t believe this analogy works. When I first took the clarinet out of its case, I couldn’t play it at all until my music teacher showed me how to blow it and fingering techniques. Whereas I wasn’t born with an instinctive ability to hold a pen and form words, I had been taught how to write characers, words and sentences (for quite different reasons) by my primary school teachers. If you teach someone basic html and a bit of css, they can build their own blog in Word Press. In the mechanical sense I can write, Dear Reader. I want to express myself. I want to share a bit of myself with you. Whereas some people may wish to do this through visual arts, performing arts or music, I want to express myself through the written word and I have the wherewithal – a pen, paper or computer – to do this, well, or not so well.

What writing courses – MAs and others – promise is that they will show you how to get your writing acceptable to editors and published. In other words, they will teach you ‘the rules’ and how to tailor your work to current trends. I fear that they would stamp out of you that streak of individuality which will make your work worth reading. (“Come on, Bernard. You need to use an apostrophe in ‘dont’.’ And, regarding your last assignment, ‘Androcles and the Lion’. Quite frankly, dear, editors aren’t taking stories about animals.’) What I love about blogosphere is that there are many people out there who are just writing for the Hell of it, blissfully unaware of any ‘rules’, and expressing themselves very naturally… even with adverbs.

Dear Reader, I’ve never taken an MA in Creative Writing, so I could be wrong, but, having studied information systems with the Open University for three long years and had my interest in computers almost drained dry, I’m not going to take a writing course in order to find out.

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One thought on “Creative Writing Quals – Do We Need Them?

  1. Well I have a writing qualification – the O level I got at age 16. I expect if I really think I’ll remember something from the course.
    Um …
    err …
    aha, yes! The classroom was on the ground floor.

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