Should you take a creative writing class?

I thought I’d write, with a little authority, on deciding about taking a class in creative writing. I’ve been studying writing and literature since 2006 with a couple of years off, and have learned a lot about both creative writing and about the work of others. I don’t think a course in creative writing suits everyone, but I also believe that everyone can learn a lot from it.

Do you like reading?
As someone who reads every day, but really doesn’t love “literature”, sometimes doing a creative writing course can be frustrating. You have to read authors you wouldn’t usually pick up, discuss themes you don’t care for and see symbolism in places where some common sense should be. Plenty of stories I had to read in creative writing left me asking ‘what the?’, a-la-90s-Rove.

If you like reading, generally speaking, you’ll probably like doing a writing course. Not because you read some whacked out stories, but because you understand how stories work.

Do you like writing?
I love writing. I kept journals throughout primary and high school, and wrote short stories, blogs and all sorts of weird and out there things.

I think that school was my biggest downfall. I remember in Year Six I was so excited about doing some creative writing — until the teacher said we had to plan it before we could write it. The only thing I had going for my story idea was that the girl in the story would put some salt in the bath, and her mum would say ‘Sea water, not salt water!’ What a riot.

Unfortunately, my story turned into an unintentional retelling of the movie Andre, about a girl who adopts a seal.

Sammy the Seal by Lisa — based on a based on true story.

And, the next time we were allowed to write stories, which was a whole year later, I timidly asked my teacher if I could write a recount of school camp instead, which I did get a B+ for.

Despite this, I kept up my soap opera stories of kids in boarding school. Until Year Eight. In Year Eight a visiting author told us to write what we know. And then said something like ‘you know, if you don’t go to boarding school, don’t set your novel in one’. A few weeks later I killed off the romantic interludes of Mel, Dave, Sally, Jon and Sassie, breaking them all up in a dramatic ending. I didn’t write short stories, unless it was for an assignment, until uni.

I kept a very melancholy blog though, and my journalling remained up to speed, unless I was dating a boy, then I didn’t bother recording flirtations at Maccas.

If you don’t enjoy writing, on any level, I think doing a class which involves writing during class time, submitting work for critique by other students, and having the bulk of your grade made up of creative work might not be overly thrilling for you.

Is it on offer, and easy to access?
When the chance to do Introduction to Creative Writing came up, I took it. At that time it was a very new course, and it was great fun. We met in a tiny hidey-hole room under the stairs and read and wrote a lot.

I have studied online, offline and on campus. I found offline study the best, the course materials were posted, and I had three huge realms of paper — a course guide, two readers and a couple of sheets explaining assignments. On campus, which I have enjoyed in some settings, there is a lot more collaboration and reading aloud than I would like. I much prefer to be able to reread a story and give feedback in my own good time.

Studying online is good, if your uni is up with technology. The current interface my uni uses is great, other study options have left me perplexed. The bigger the class, the easier it is to interact and gain feedback. Doing my first Masters topic, I was given some pretty harsh criticism about whether I was writing at ‘Masters level’, but I got a Distinction for that assignment, and never bothered defending myself since.

Do you have a story you want to write?
I have sometimes entered courses without ideas, but more often than not, I have an phrase or idea I want to convey, and can chuck it in a story somewhere.

When I tell people I study creative writing, occasionally they tell me they plan to write a book one day. Great, you want to write a book, go for it. Or, they’ll tell me they have a story for me, which is usually interesting, but it isn’t mine to tell.

A friend of mine is writing a book. She’s always been a good writer and a deep thinker, and doesn’t need to do a course to help her go ahead and pursue that dream. A course in writing can help inspire and motivate you, but plenty of people have been wonderful writers without doing a course.

So, why take a course at all?
Okay, so I just said you don’t need to take any kind of formal training to be a writer. It has helped me develop interest in an area I was scared away from during my schooling. More than that though, some practicalities of studying creative writing:

…you get a lot of feedback from people who have a broad range of knowledge in their area — some feedback can be ignored, but how often do people get the chance to have their work critiqued by established authors, or experts in the field? Not very, if any, and usually you have to pay for such consultancy.

…you unlearn a lot of mistakes schooling chucked at you. Remember the teacher that said ‘never use ‘said’, or ‘good’? Forget them. Is it its or it’s? What the hell is ‘tense’, and why hasn’t anyone ever explained this before? How do you use quotation marks? The list goes on!

…you meet some great people, but it that isn’t your thing, you can talk to them online.

…you can develop discipline. Being creative can be time consuming, or all consuming, and it’s easy to avoid any consumption. If you are one of those people who has always wanted to write a book, doing a course in creative writing might prompt you to get on with it.

…you can develop networks and knowledge. I learnt a lot about the writing scene in my city through two courses at uni, and at the time thought ‘wow, why do to so much effort?’ Now though, I want to make writing a career, so that basic understanding has been quite handy.

…it is one of the few things you can study that is very creative. Some lecturers require that your creative writing is ‘influenced’ by other authors, others are happy to let your creative juices flow and keep the references for essays. Markers tend to be quite objective which is very helpful.

I am more than happy to answer any questions about being a creative writing student, please comment or send me a PM.

I like books, rubber ducks, 90s pop music and putting words on paper. Wrote a thesis on romance. Failed roller derby fresh meat 5 times (and counting).