Should I take a creative writing course?

I’ve been writing for a few years now. I’ve never really learned how to write though. School was obviously a big help. I’ve read a bit too. And I’ve picked up a few things from mentors, reviewers and editors. I practice as a writer but can’t say I know the process.

A creative writing course is where I could learn the process. I’m wondering whether I want to though. Part of me says no. I’d like to carry on picking things up along my writerly journey, preserving my writing as a craft. Another part of me says I need to. Besides unpacking my writing and hopefully repackaging it into something more publishable, it’ll give me legitimacy as a(n unpublished creative) writer.

What do I mean by legitimacy? Well, I suppose, if I’ve got a piece of paper that says I’ve learned the basics (at the very least), my writing might stand up better to scrutiny. I’ll have a piece of paper that says I’ve learned about writing, and I’ll have the vocabulary to better understand and explain how I write.

The question in the title is not rhetorical though. I really would like to know what value you see in creative writing courses, which you might recommend, at what level, face-to-face or online, and any other considerations you think are important. I know I should take a course for more than just gaining legitimacy. If nothing else, it’ll be a chance to connect with other writers, and go through the highs and lows of our journeys together. So what do you reckon? Should I?

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12 thoughts on “Should I take a creative writing course?

  1. Pingback: Igniting Your Creativity | The Gulkin Gazette

  2. Personally, I think you’d be better off joining a creative writing group than forking out lots of money for a course. I was in a writing group at university, we met weekly, and it encouraged me to focus on writing when otherwise I might not have bothered, and was also a way to get feedback on my work in a relaxed attitude. None of us had any writing qualifications, and we may not have learned as much as we would have on a course, but it did help with some of the things that you’ve mentioned: connecting with other writers and understanding my own writing better in particular. I also felt that it lent me a sense of legitimacy in a way, as we encouraged each other to refer to ourselves as writers and to take our writing more seriously.

  3. It’s going to depend heavily upon your teachers. I’m lucky, as since I attend WCU, the professors instructing the fiction/non-fiction classes are both established writers and teachers, so they have a lot of experience writing and a lot of experience teaching people how to write. I recommend talking with the teachers associated with these courses. They don’t have to be established authors, but they do need to be invigorated by the topic of writing and eager to teach the craft and help students out. An unmotivated creative writing teacher damages the classroom and students more than in any other class (In my opinion, at least).

    Just a warning: Introduction to Creative Writing is not targeted toward you, I or others who have written and enjoy writing on our own. It’s designed to break a person into the field of creative writing. It’s focused more on establishing writing habits, helping students to figure out areas of creating writing they like, and helping students to grow comfortable sharing works. Basically, it’s tailored for people who possess zero experience with creative writing.

    Don’t let this discourage you though! If you’ve only dealt in one area of creative writing (I used to only deal in fiction, for example), it’s very informative in learning about poetry, drama/plays, and non-fiction. Intro to Creative Writing also saved me as a writer, since prior I suffered from severe lack confidence and a fear of writing for myself and sharing with others. If you’re shy about sharing your works, use Intro to Creative Writing as an opportunity to break the fear and develop confidence!

    If you’re looking for tutelage with prose, story-telling technique, and the finer points of the craft, you’ll have to advance to the next level courses. Usually these are broken down into specific subjects presented in Intro to Creative Writing: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Drama/Playwrights, and Poetry. If you’re into either fiction or non-fiction, I suggest you take both, as even if the subject does not appeal to you, the lessons learned in terms of writing technique apply to both.

    I’ll give you an example of what my intro and intermediate level courses were like in a separate comment, cause this one’s getting a bit long. >_>

  4. My Intro to Creative Writing class involved a lot of small assignments on an almost daily basis, with one major assignment finishing off Poetry, Non-Fiction, Fiction, and Playwrights respectively. The standards were based on effort and a trend of improvement. The skill level of students varied dramatically, with some amazing and some poor. I learned to help people less experienced, and how to not feel intimidated when I read from a better writer. The students in the class were offered opportunities to write and share every session, and the primary theme of the class was to develop confidence and shed any fears.

    Intermediate level creative courses teach completely different aspects of writing, and focus on literary writing (short story in particular, but your teacher may/may not allow fiction sketches). I had only three graded assignments: a 500 word limit story, a 1000 word limit story, and a 2500 word limit story. Thankfully, the teacher was fairly lax about the word limit, and hardly any of us obeyed the 500 word assignment.

    The daily assignments and homework entail reading and discussion of literary examples, and lessons on prose and story-telling technique. For each major assignment, we spent several days critiquing everyones’ drafts up until the final draft. This is where learning to share without fear is crucial, because bringing in a rough draft copy for every member of class was required and a huge part of the overall grade (Not bringing in a rough draft for each of the three major assignments = Too lost points to pass). This class places a lot of emphasis upon learning to accept and give critique.

    Your school (I’m assuming university level) may or may not offer advanced levels of creative writing. WCU is lucky, as we have THE Ron Rash teaching here, and he offers an invite-only class for advanced fiction writing with heavy emphasis on literary short stories. I have not yet taken it, though I will when his class opens again next semester. If I had to guess, this is where suddenly there IS a classroom standard for writing abilities, because unlike before, where any skill level could apply, a student must first send the professor a creative work, and he must approve said work in order to sign-up for the class. I imagine this sort of class targets only those seeking to make a serious attempt at a literary writing career, which may or may not be your forte.

    Throughout your creative writing classroom experience, you might notice a bias between Literary Writing and Genre Fiction (Books like Harry Potter). My teachers have been rather accepting and known to like reading genre fiction themselves. Not all teachers though accept Genre Fiction as “real writing” (Ignore them. Writing is writing! Period!) and may sport elitist or dismissive attitudes toward Genre Fiction. If you have such bad luck, I’d recommend just trying anyway, as Literary Writing teaches improvement better. Think of it as the difference between Professional and Film Score Music: you might not like classical music, but it’s far superior to film score music in terms of teaching and learning the craft.

    Of course, if a professor is personally intolerable, that should weigh HEAVILY into your decision. Again, this is one subject where a good student-teacher relationship is a must, and an unmotivated professor or an outright jerk teaching the classroom will destroy the experience.

  5. In summary, as long as you enjoy writing (seems like you do!) and the professors teaching are good, then I’d recommend taking creative writing courses. Even if you discover that your skill level surpasses what the lessons taught in class, you might be able to work one on one with professors who can attend to your specific needs to grow as a writer.

  6. I’m taking a writing course online right now and although the content and the tutor is awesome, the students are frustrating. I’ve gone to uni and earned a degree and no way would anyone go up to their tutor and say “this course is too hard, can’t be bothered, why the hell would you set that as a weekly assignment etc” face to face. Online however, there is no line they won’t cross. The course itself is great though.

  7. I’m sorry I don’t really have the answer for you because I am pondering the exact same thoughts. I feel I don’t really have any direction with my writing (or blog for that matter!) and I am easily off on tangents. For these reasons I am considering a writing course also.

    After reading a few of your blog entries however, I think you are definitly doing better than me 🙂

  8. Pingback: When do you become a writer? « rhythm & method

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