Why students should opt creative writing courses?
Hello readers! Ever considered taking a creative writing class but then wondered if it’s worth the time and money? This blog is going to tell why creative writing courses are worth it. Have you thought that you could just learn everything you need about writing from a book? Ever wondered just what creative writing courses teach anyway?
With writing, there’s always more to learn, and the best way to do this is by engaging with other writers. If you feel you need assistance at any time to gather ideas or mould them a certain way, you can head for taking help with assignment from AllAssignmenthelp.com.
Let’s get a quick overview of what I have covered in this blog post:
-Definition of creative writing
-Types of creative writing
-Techniques used in creative writing courses
-Are creative writing courses worth it?
Defining Creative Writing
As per the literature, creative writing is an art of sorts – the art of making things up. It’s writing done in a way that is not academic or technical but still attracts the audience. Though the definition bit scattered, but for the most part creative writing can be considered as any writing that is original and self-expressive. A news article, for example, cannot be considered creative writing because its main goal is to present facts and not to express the feelings of the writer. While a news article can be entertaining, its main purpose is to present the facts.
The purpose of creative writing is to both entertain and share human experience, like love or loss. Writers attempt to get at a truth about humanity through poetics and storytelling. If you’d like to try your hand at creative writing, just keep in mind that whether you are trying to express a feeling or a thought, the first step is to use your imagination.
Types of creative writing
- Movie and television scripts
- Fiction (novels, novellas, and short stories)
- Personal essays
As you can see, some nonfiction types of writing can also be considered creative writing. Memoirs and personal essays, for example, can be written creatively to inform your readers about your life in an expressive way. Because these types are written in first person, it’s easier for them to be creative. The right creative writing courses help you to master all these types. Also you can get access to expert writers who can make you learn the art in a better way.
Techniques used in creative writing
- Metaphors and similes
- Figures of speech
- Imaginative language
- Emotional appeal
- Heavy description
- Character development
- Point of view
- Underlying theme
- Vivid setting
- Plot development
There are classes out there on every aspect of writing if you know where to look. You can take part in everything form of writing and can make money with your creative writing.
Universities, libraries, even schools are the best places to look. If your local library or university doesn’t have anything, the chances are they’ll be able to point you in the right direction. The closer you are to a big city, the more opportunities you’ll have. But it’s important to know why you want to go for the creative writing courses. What do you want to get through it?
If you don’t go into a course with a clear aim and reason for taking it, then you are wasting your time and money. So, think wisely if you really want to benefit yourself. Other than this, there is many other ways which can give you insights to better ideas and concepts to write better. If you want to make a difference in your writing you can get the same by expert assistance.
Things to expect from creative writing courses
The nature of writing is a basic part of penning a masterpiece; polishing your prose through constructive criticism. However, students can initially be very reticent to offer a critique of their peer’s work or to share their own, ultimately holding them back as a writer.
The best and purest thing to expect from creative writing courses, is to expect anything. You may enter with an some set rules, but when your creative juices get going, you’ll get more than you expected and, hopefully, filled with a steely determination to attack the blank white page as soon as possible.
Also there is a uniqueness
That’s what it goes when you will attend scrip writing classes at university or an institution. Initially you may be unsure of what you would be specifically doing. You may be expecting the unexpected. Knowing that you want to write something and wanted to know more about how to do it.
It is with this approach that you will learn it is best for everybody, especially the individual, that everyone within the creative writing courses should express their ideas to the group; to share opinions and to do so comfortably.
And yet everyone did it so very uncomfortably. It is a learning curve. As a common hurdle for any writing class to overcome, make sure the institutions engages most creative writing tutors who encourage a collaborative and welcoming atmosphere; providing you the forum to open up and share your thoughts.
There is reason for this. Dare I say, it is where the magic happens. You really learn the most about yourself as a writer, about the written work of your peers and about the craft itself by taking your stories or scripts (whatever it may be) and by vocalising them to your group. Feedback is key at all stages of writing. With this in mind, here are three things to expect from creative writing courses:
1. STAND UP AND PRESENT
Your tutor and your classmates will want to know who you are, where you’re from and what you’re writing about. Be ready to speak to the group so that you do yourself and your writing justice when the moment inevitably comes. Creative Writing students aged 16-24 studying are ordinarily taught through seminars and tutorials, providing students with valuable opportunities to present and discuss their own writing in both groups and individually.
2. WORKING AS A GROUP
Expect to be randomly paired and be given a sliver of time to come up with an original piece of writing, for later presentation to the group. This was common in my own experience, with specific sources of information such as newspaper clippings/headlines or a photograph often providing the seed for our story. Creative Writing courses can involve tasks to write short stories and/or a poem which can be difficult to do within a set time, but hugely satisfying upon completion. Also, so much constructive feedback and good advice shall be obtained by sharing this with your fellow students and tutor.
3. BE PREPARED TO PERFORM
Performing is different to presenting. You may be required to get into character and speak the lines of which you type! This is a healthy and useful exercise because it will highlight areas that work well and will also highlight areas that need more attention. Embrace this nerve-wracking element of creative writing classes and workshop your ideas. Accept that what you write first-time around will not be on a par with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Most importantly, be willing to re-write whilst also understanding the difference between plain feedback and helpful feedback.
What are Creative Writing Courses?
With the right creative writing tips, you will be able to master all the essentials of creative writing.
There are many definitions of what creative writing courses are depends on what the course is aiming to teach you. Some courses will include details on how you can become a freelance writer earning money for your work, either full or part-time. Other courses will concentrate on improving your writing with no regard to whether the writing is to be considered for publication or not. Most creative writing courses will include advice on how to write fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
So, when you are going through the list of creative writing courses you should first find out what the aim of the course is.
Fundamentals of creative writing courses
- Deciding where and when to write
- How to start your writing
- Writer’s block and how to overcome it
- Developing your imagination
- The benefits of reading widely
- How to develop your powers of observation
- Personal qualities such as perseverance, determination, self-organisation, resilience and confidence
- Getting the basics right
- Rules to develop a good style and avoiding common mistakes.
Most creative writing courses that are aimed at simply helping you develop your writing skills for pleasure only may stop at that. If you need a course that will help you become a published writer it should also contain advice on the following:
- Developing your writers craft – finding original titles, writing opening paragraphs that catch the editors attention, planning the main body, checking facts, revision of work and carrying out research
- Techniques for selling your writing – including where and how to find markets and analysis of the markets
- Presenting your work – including layout, cover sheets, submitting your work electronically and query letters to editors
- Legal considerations – including libel, copyright, plagiarism
- Considering whether you need an agent and how to get one.
What Will be Covered in a Creative Writing Course?
Again, it depends on what kind of course you choose to study. Some creative writing courses may only contain advice on fiction writing, some cover fiction and non-fiction, others include poetry and so on. The different types of writing your might like to try your hand at include:
- Readers’ letters
- Articles – including travel, women’s and men’s magazines, trade, hobbies and general interest
- Writing for children’s publication
- Religious and inspirational writing
- Non-fiction books
- Short stories
- Writing for radio, TV and the stage
- Biographies, family histories and memoirs
- Writing for competitions
Book learning versus creative writing courses
Books are great. They can do many things. But they can’t critique your writing. Whereas creative writing courses will not only give you the tools to write better, but it will teach you how to use those tools too.
Most writing classes will include writing exercises, then will go through your work at the end or a later date. You’ll be required to either print out or read out your work, then your teacher and your peers will discuss what they liked and disliked, and give you pointers on how to improve.
Receiving feedback can be scary, but it’s the best way to improve your writing. The harsher the feedback, the more they care—it shows they want your piece to be the best that it can be. The only way it can be this is by pushing you.
What to look for in a creative writing course?
Before choosing a course every student goes through many creative writing courses. This is done to choose the best. Keep in mind the more you can find out about the course tutor before you sign up, the better. The best classes are taught by experienced writers who can back up what they’re saying with published books and student referrals.
If it’s a course on selling books and they’ve only sold hundred, they’re not the best person to be teaching that class. It is not a case of those who can, do, those who can’t, teach. The best writers do spend most of their time writing, but they also want to share their knowledge of writing too. Most writers are more than willing to share their knowledge; all you have to do is ask. If you come across an empty or vague course description, AVOID!
AVOID, AVOID, AVOID.
If the description is vague, it’s likely the course will be, too. There must be some clear details which can bend you to select a certain course from the numerous creative writing courses. There should be detail on the website about what each module was about. Also, try to keep the grammar correct and syntax perfect.
Surprisingly, it’s not something that all creative writing BA’s or MAs do, despite the process teaching many skills that are needed for not just the writing and publishing industries, but the workplace as well. If someone tries to tell you how great they are at something but can’t prove why they’re great, spend your money elsewhere.
How much is too much in creative writing courses?
Like everything in life, the more you pay, the more value you’re likely to get out of something. Writing classes can cost anything, they can be affordable or expensive as well.
How much you’re prepared to spend is up to you. Generally speaking, the longer the course is, the more expensive it is. The longer the course is, the more knowledge you’ll get from it and the more likely you are to form a relationship with your teacher at the end. This relationship could be invaluable to you later on. It can lead to everything from guest posts on your blog to publication in magazines, so keep in touch with those who’ve taught you. Networking is everything in the writing world.
So are creative writing courses worth it?
Yes, they are, if:
- You’re willing to put the time and effort in—there may be homework!
- You can afford it
- You know what you want to get out of it
- Your teacher knows what they’re talking about (be sure to do your research!)
- You keep an open mind
1. Understand free writing
The first few days of creative writing courses is where you spend ten to twenty minutes free writing as soon as class start. About two weeks later, instructor ask the students to read their free writes out loud. Usually volunteers do that for students and this is where you can find your errors. In the initial stages your free writes were nothing more than diary entries.
I had actually thought it odd that students will be writing journals in class. Now it made sense! In creative writing class, you will get to learn to free write every day as part of your practice and as a tool to generate raw material for poetry and story ideas. It will have a huge impact on writing and mark a time when work and writing practices will go through dramatic improvements.
2. You will get to do writing exercises
Writing exercises are where my technical skills saw the most progress. When you write whatever you want, whenever you want, there are aspects of the craft that inevitably escape you. Creative writing exercises and assignments forces you to think more strategically about writing from a technical standpoint. It isn’t about getting your ideas onto the page; it is about setting out to achieve a specific mission with your writing.
Many writing exercises that you will do in class impart valuable writing concepts; these will be the exercises you will treasure most because they will help you see your writing from various angles. Writing exercises also gives a host of creativity methods.
3. You will get to work in a writing community
When I was in high school and a teacher would announce a quiz or a writing assignment, the students would let out a collective sigh and begrudgingly get to work. In creative writing class, when the instructor said, “Let’s do a writing exercise,” everybody got excited. We couldn’t pull out our notebooks and pens fast enough!
Here’s the thing about a creative writing courses: everyone in the room wants to be there. They chose to be there. So there’s a lot of enthusiasm and passion. More importantly, there’s plenty of support and camaraderie. You will be surrounded by other writers who will be eager and interested to read what you have written, and the best part will be that they offer suggestions that can make your writing even better! You can’t stress enough how warm you will found writers to be over the years. It’s an honour to be part of such a supportive community.
4. Nothing can replace a mentor
In college, instructors who teach you writing classes were all published authors. As a student, you will have to direct access to writers who will go through all the rigours of everything that happens in the process: drafting, revising, submitting, publishing, and marketing.
These instructors are also extremely well versed in literature and the craft of writing (as they should be — that’s their job, after all). And there is nothing — no book, video, or article — that beats direct access to an experienced professional.
5. Right place, right time
Perhaps the best lesson you will glean from creative writing class will be that you will be in the right place at the right time. This will be a feeling that will come from within, a certain surety that you are doing exactly what you are meant to be doing. The semester in which you will take a creative writing class may be packed with odd coincidences and epiphanies. Getting access to right things at the right time is extremely important, and this is what you get when you go for a creative writing course.
As I mentioned, most of these lessons can be learned outside of a creative writing class. You can discover writing techniques and strategies from books, blogs, and magazines. But nothing can lessen the value of creative writing courses. You can find a community and a mentor online or in local writing groups. And you can experience a sense of certainty just about anywhere. They are best to go for if you are someone who longs to improvise your writing or learn new writing styles.
How we can help you?
We have provided you all the reasons to go for Creative writing courses. Though, there is still something which many students need to perform better, which is right help at the right time. At AllAssignmentHelp.com we are a team of expert writers and student helpers who can provide you the best online assignment help. Be it any topic on which you have to gather details or want guidance; we can do it for you. Whether you need help with the research aspect or finalising your draft by apt proofreading and editing, you can come to us. Not only this, we can provide you customised writings as well. Thanks for reading…
What is a Creative Writing Course?
With the right creative writing tips, you will be able to master all the essentials
There are many definitions of what a creative writing course is depending on what the course is aiming to teach you. Some courses will include details on how you can become a freelance writer earning money for your work, either full or part-time. Other courses will concentrate on improving your writing with no regard to whether the writing is to be considered for publication or not. Most creative writing courses will include advice on how to write fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
So, when you are choosing a creative writing course you should first find out what the aim of the course is.
All creative writing courses should cover the fundamentals of writing such as:
- deciding where and when to write
- how to start your writing
- writer’s block and how to overcome it
- developing your imagination
- the benefits of reading widely
- how to develop your powers of observation
- personal qualities such as perseverance, determination, self-organisation, resilience and confidence
- getting the basics right
- rules to develop a good style and avoiding common mistakes.
Most courses that are aimed at simply helping you develop your writing skills for pleasure only may stop at that. If you need a course that will help you become a published writer it should also contain advice on the following:
developing your writers craft – finding original titles, writing opening paragraphs that catch the editors attention, planning the main body, checking facts, revision of work and carrying out research
What Will be Covered in The Course?
Again, it depends on what kind of course you choose to study. Some may only contain advice on fiction writing, some cover fiction and non-fiction, others include poetry and so on. The different types of writing your might like to try your hand at include:
- readers’ letters
- articles – including travel, women’s and men’s magazines, trade, hobbies and general interest
- writing for children’s publication
- religious and inspirational writing
- non-fiction books
- short stories
- writing for radio, TV and the stage
- biographies, family histories and memoirs
- writing for competitions
If you want to find out more about creative writing request a Writers Bureau Comprehensive Creative Writing course prospectus.
Found these tips useful? Then sign up to receive more writing tips and course offers.
“I have seen my writing journey as an adventure: What can I write? What am I best at? What new aspects of writing can I discover and contribute towards? I have welcomed the wide range of modules covering different types of writing, challenging me to try new aspects in style and content, pushing me gently outside my comfort zone with encouragement.
“I signed up for the course in December 2020 as a Christmas present to myself and I started the first module in January 2021. I have had eight pieces published: three paid earning £1080 and a star letter where I won a £250 hotel voucher.”
Annemarie Munro – Writers Bureau Student of the Year 2022
Copyright © 2009-2022 The Writers Bureau. All rights reserved. | The Writers Bureau, 5th Floor Church House 90 Deansgate Manchester M3 2GP England | Sitemap | Conditions of Website Use
The WRITERS BUREAU
10 th August 2018
The Writers Bureau understands that your privacy is important to you and that you care about how your personal data is used and shared online. We respect and value the privacy of everyone who visits this website, www.writersbureau.com (“Our Site”) and will only collect and use personal data in ways that are described here, and in a manner that is consistent with Our obligations and your rights under the law.
1 – Definitions and Interpretation
- In this Policy, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
means an account required to access and/or use certain areas and features of Our Site;
means a small text file placed on your computer or device by Our Site when you visit certain parts of Our Site and/or when you use certain features of Our Site. Details of the Cookies used by Our Site are set out in section 13, below;
means the relevant parts of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003;
means any and all data that relates to an identifiable person who can be directly or indirectly identified from that data. In this case, it means personal data that you give to Us via Our Site. This definition shall, where applicable, incorporate the definitions provided in the EU Regulation 2016/679 – the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”); and
means The Writers Bureau is a division of Systematic Training and Trading Ltd (STT), a limited company registered in England under company number 256396, whose registered address is 8-10 Dutton Street, Manchester, M3 1LE., and whose main trading address is as above.
2 – Information About Us
- 2.1 Our Site is owned and operated by The Writers Bureau a division of Systematic Training and Trading Ltd (STT), a limited company registered in England under company number 256396, whose registered address is as above.
- 2.2 Our Data Protection Manager is David Pendlebury, and can be contacted by email at [email protected], by telephone on 0161 819 9922, or by post at whose registered address is 8-10 Dutton Street, Manchester, M3 1LE.
3 – What Does This Policy Cover?
4 – Your Rights
- 4.1 As a data subject, you have the following rights under the GDPR, which this Policy and Our use of personal data have been designed to uphold:
- 4.1.1 The right to be informed about Our collection and use of personal data;
- 4.1.2 The right of access to the personal data We hold about you (see section 12);
- 4.1.3 The right to rectification if any personal data We hold about you is inaccurate or incomplete (please contact Us using the details in section 14);
- 4.1.4 The right to be forgotten – i.e. the right to ask Us to delete any personal data We hold about you (We only hold your personal data for a limited time, as explained in section 6 but if you would like Us to delete it sooner, please contact Us using the details in section 14);
- 4.1.5 The right to restrict (i.e. prevent) the processing of your personal data;
- 4.1.6 The right to data portability (obtaining a copy of your personal data to re-use with another service or organisation);
- 4.1.7 The right to object to Us using your personal data for particular purposes; and
- 4.1.8 Rights with respect to automated decision making and profiling.
5 – What Data Do We Collect?
- 5.1 Name;
- 5.2 Contact information such as email addresses and telephone numbers;
- 5.3 Demographic information such as post code,
- 5.4 IP address;
- 5.5 Web browser type and version;
- 5.6 Operating system;
- 5.7 A list of URLs starting with a referring site, your activity on Our Site, and the site you exit to;
6 – How Do We Use Your Data?
- 6.1 All personal data is processed and stored securely, for no longer than is necessary in light of the reason(s) for which it was first collected. We will comply with Our obligations and safeguard your rights under the GDPR at all times. For more details on security see section 7, below.
- 6.2 Our use of your personal data will always have a lawful basis, either because it is necessary for Our performance of a contract with you, because you have consented to Our use of your personal data (e.g. by requesting details), or because it is in Our legitimate interests. Specifically, We may use your data for the following purposes:
- 6.2.1 Providing and managing your Account;
- 6.2.2 Providing and managing your access to Our Site;
- 6.2.3 Personalising and tailoring your experience on Our Site;
- 6.2.4 Supplying Our products and services to you (please note that We require your personal data in order to enter into a contract with you);
- 6.2.5 Personalising and tailoring Our products for you;
- 6.2.6 Replying to emails from you;
- 6.2.7 Supplying you with emails about our courses and services (you may unsubscribe at any time by clicking on the ‘unsubscribe’ link in the email)
- 6.2.8 Market research;
- 6.2.9 Analysing your use of Our Site and gathering feedback to enable Us to continually improve Our Site and your user experience;
7 – How and Where Do We Store Your Data?
- 7.1 We only keep your personal data for as long as We need to in order to use it as described above in section 6, and/or for as long as We have your permission to keep it.
- 7.1.1 Your data will be stored within the European Economic Area (“the EEA”) (The EEA consists of all EU member states, plus Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein).
- 7.3.1 Installation of a suitable SSL security certificate
The details you supplied when requesting information are securely stored on our server and are used to send you information about our courses and services.
We use Communigator as our emailing system and your name and email address are stored therein and are used to update you with WB news.
If you paid by card: We use SagePay or PayPal to process your card payments so your details are stored therein.
If you paid by direct debit: We use FastPay to process direct debit payments and your details are stored therein.
Your enrolment details and progress through the course are securely stored on our server.
If you enrolled by phone or post and have been given access to the online course materials your name and email address are stored on our website.
If you enrolled online, your details are stored on The Writers Bureau website.
Information provided on the Market Research Questionnaire, which you complete with your first assignment, is not stored against any identifying information about you and is only used to gain a general profile of our student body.
We use Communigator as our emailing system and your name and email address are stored therein and are used to update you with Competition news.
If you paid by card: Your details, except card details, are stored within our cart. We use SagePay or PayPal to process your card payments so your details are stored therein.
We use Communigator as our emailing system and your name and email address are stored therein and are used to update you with AFW news.
If you paid by card: Your details, except card details, are stored within our cart. We use SagePay or PayPal to process your card payments so your details are stored therein.
So you want to be a writer …
Last week Hanif Kureishi dismissed creative writing courses as ‘a waste of time’, yet they have never been more popular. Other leading author-teachers reveal their advice to students
Click here to read authors’ 10 rules for writing
Illustration by Jill Calder
Illustration by Jill Calder
Good writing is a mixture of the calculated and the instinctual. No one writes through pure dazed inspiration; questions of craft and calculation enter in quite quickly. Last week, speaking at the Bath festival, Hanif Kureishi cast some doubt on the existence of transferable, teachable craft in writing by witheringly classifying 99.9% of his students as “untalented” and saying that writing a story is “a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.” (Kureishi teaches creative writing at Kingston University, apparently ineffectually).
What lies, or ought to lie, beneath the growth of creative writing as a subject is the conviction that a good deal of the best writing derives from conscious craft, if not all of it. Commentators sometimes say that writing can’t be taught; that beginning writers either have “it”, in which case they don’t need to be taught, or they don’t have “it”, in which case money and time is being wasted by the exercise. But writers can perfectly well have native ability, a feel for language, an inventiveness and a keen eye towards the world and still not quite understand how they can do something well, not once, but repeatedly. A good creative writing course will explore underlying principles of good writing – not to impose invented “rules” on writing, but to introduce ways of thinking about writing that are strong and purposeful. You could teach yourself how to make a chair by taking a lot apart, and experimenting with joists. A furniture-making course might school you in some unsuspected skills, and save you some time.
A bad creative writing class will look like this. A student has submitted some work with the words: “I don’t think it’s very good.” The class has (mostly) read it. After a long silence, one of the student’s best friends, primed, says: “I really like the way you … ” The student says: ‘Thank you.” Another one says: “I didn’t quite understand about the bit where …” The student explains. Half the class stay silent; the student leaves with ego intact and work unimproved.
I’ve seen the experience of becoming a writer from both sides. When I began, it didn’t occur to me to go on a creative writing course – there were few in the late 1980s, and it seemed more pressing to do an academic PhD. I taught myself to write. I still think, for a writer who is also an insatiable reader, there is a lot to be said for the self-taught route. But since 2005, I’ve started teaching creative writing in universities, and now teach at Bath Spa. When I look at my first novels, they seem to me to have no idea about some technical features of the novel. I don’t think I really had a solid novelistic technique until I wrote my third or fourth novel, and in today’s publishing world, that would be a serious disadvantage in a career.
Illustration by Adam Gale
Creative writing, as a discipline, may not be entirely selfless, despite any beneficial results. It is no accident that it started expanding at precisely the moment when traditional financial props of the writers’ trade such as the Net Book Agreement were abolished; when traditional supports of writers’ incomes such as book reviews started being eroded by budget cuts; when publishers, under their own pressures, started savagely cutting away at their standard advances for authors of all levels. The days when VS Pritchett could run a house in a Regent’s Park terrace on the proceeds from short stories and book reviews are long gone. In 2014, a professorial salary may be anything, financially, from a useful support to an absolute necessity.
Forced into the academy, a writer might run a good seminar something like this. We would probably talk about an exercise of street observation undertaken in the previous days – how people groom themselves, or attract the attention of strangers. We might discuss an aspect of technique with reference to a passage from a published piece of fiction – last week we talked about character from the outside, looking at a page of Elizabeth Bowen. We might look at a classic book, or an absolutely new novel – it’s an obligation on a creative writing course to keep up with new work, and we’re investing not just in new work, but in new digital techniques for writing.
Other ways of thinking about humanity might prove relevant. There are writers’ statements or thoughts about what they do as writers – Arnold Bennett’s glorious book on the subject, or Virginia Woolf’s counter-statement about the exterior and interior world of the mind, or any number of interviews with present-day authors. Or we could have a look at sociologists’ analysis, like that of Erving Goffman, or psychologists’, or anything else that seems interesting and relevant. When student work is discussed, it has to be a safe but rigorous process. Constructive comments are insisted on; not ego-massaging niceness, but specific comments on where something has gone wrong and how it might be improved. The focus is on technique as well as emotion and experience. Is the presiding consciousness the right one? Does he need to filter everything through his awareness? Is this the right tense? What is this thing called free indirect style? Does enough happen? Do students say: “I really like the part where you …”? You bet your sweet bippy they don’t.
Classes, at Bath Spa and elsewhere, differ greatly. With a faculty that includes very varied authors, there is never going to be a uniform approach. But we often find ourselves addressing recurrent issues. How can I create characters that are memorable and engaging? (Top tip – introduce them in small groups, and out of their customary context.) There doesn’t seem to be enough happening – my characters just keep telling each other how they feel about each other, and then they have an affair or kill each other or have a baby. But then what? (Top tip; incident has to keep coming from outside, and the unexpected illuminates character. Try experimentally dropping a giant block of frozen piss through the ceiling of their room and see what they do.)
Illustration by Adam Gale
There are also possibilities that writers just haven’t perceived. You don’t have to present action as a one-off series of events; actions can be beautifully recurrent in a sentence running: “Whenever Amir visited Brenda, he always took the second-cheapest box of milk chocolates from the newsagents for her. She would always thank him effusively.” You don’t induce emotions by talking about those emotions; you are much more likely to do so by describing facts of the world, quite objectively. Go out into the street and watch human beings attentively; you will probably realise with a shock that your vocabulary of gestures – which now runs, in its entirety “he shrugged, she grinned, he frowned, she shook her head, he rolled his eyes, she sighed” – is totally inadequate. (And how rude and rare is shrugging, anyway?)
Personally, I like to irritate as well as inspire a class, sometimes by saying sagely: “A short story consists of an introduction, five OR seven episodes, and a coda in which the weather changes.” (Worked for Chekhov, anyway.) Or: “If you’re going to have an animal in a story, have a dog and not a cat.” (Dogs are easier structural principles, running up to strangers in parks, and so on.)
Your students are not, thank heaven, going to be much like you as writers. They are going to react against you with their own thoughts and creative principles. Yes, there are courses where people who write present-tense historical novels, apparently about 21st-century women in a crinoline, produce students who do exactly the same thing. But a good creative writing course will produce independent-thinking, craftsmanlike innovators with critical, widely curious and energetic minds. I don’t know why this goal isn’t more common in universities, anyway.
Philip Hensher is a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University.
Jeanette Winterson. Photograph: IBL/REX
1) I don’t give a shit what’s in your head. By which I mean if it isn’t on the page it doesn’t exist. The connection between your mind and the reader’s mind is language. Reading is not telepathy.
2) I don’t care whether you like the texts we study or you don’t. Like or dislike is a personal thing and tells me something about you, but nothing about the text. If you don’t think something is well written, convince me. If you do think so, convince me. Learn from everything you read and understand how to learn from everything you read. And above all read! My classes use texts I am pretty sure they won’t know because I want them to see how wide is the world of books and thought and imagination. I am trying to reposition them in relation to, in response to, language.
3) Writing is a love affair not a solitary pleasure. You can write about anything you like but there must be a connection between you and the material.
4) Do not take any “advice” on how to write from anyone who has not written and published a significant piece of work. (Ezra Pound was right.)
Jeanette Winterson is a professor of creative writing at Manchester University.
Rachel Cusk. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images
Many creative writing students start with the belief that writing is entirely the operation of point of view; in other words, that the world only exists in so far as it is perceived by a human personality. Most of what I teach involves encouraging students to exteriorise their subjective world by fixing it to objects, instead of routing everything through the persona of Jane or John. For the reader, being trapped in the head of Jane or John, and dependent on them for every scrap of information, is the precise opposite of their own experience of existence. A story that starts with “Jane looked out of the kitchen window and thought about her life” – despite the fact that it may be perfectly true – will always be struggling to free itself from a basic unreality.
Many students find this idea counterintuitive, but the easier and more effortless something looks, the more thoroughly it is underpinned by technique. The desire to write comes easily; writing itself is technical and hard. I give my students exercises in which a certain object has to feature. I choose the object myself: the more alien it is to their subjective processes the better. The object represents the impingement of reality, and it nearly always has the effect of turning their writing inside out. Over time I’ve learned which objects work the best: some of the things I’ve used – a violin, a pair of scissors – have been too easily conscripted into the student’s subjective world. Others – a lawnmower, a new pair of shoes – unfailingly make the writing more objective. The narrative has to find a way around it, like water has to flow around an obstacle, and the result is that the whole enterprise is given form.
Rachel Cusk is professor of creative writing at Kingston University.
Michael Cunningham. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
I teach a class on the craft of fiction-writing at Yale, which is a hybrid of a literature course and a writing workshop. If a more traditional literature course has to do with why we’re interested in writers like Henry James and James Joyce, my class focuses on how they did what they did, using only ink, paper, and the same vocabulary available to everyone.
If a more traditional workshop is largely based on trial and error – write a story and we’ll tell you what’s wrong with it – my course is based at least partly on why writers write as they do; on the basis for their decisions.
I do remind my students, periodically, that fiction contains an element of ineluctable mystery along with its elements of craft, and that a great story or novel is great in certain ways we can elucidate, and certain ways in which we cannot. We don’t dissect great literature in the belief that once all its organs are spread out on the table before us, we’ve got it figured out.
We read extensively and, each week, do our best to determine how certain effects were achieved by a different writer. How did James build his characters in The Aspern Papers? How did Joyce structure “The Dead”?
The students perform writing exercises as we go along. During the week we spend on character, for instance, I ask them to write a single paragraph that conveys the appearance and essential nature of a character. During the week on structure, I give them an impossible welter of information – seven different people, with twice that many interconnected dramas and conflicts – and ask them to sketch out a story, with the understanding that they can omit as much, or include as much, as they like.
During the final third of the semester I simply tell my students to take what they’ve learned, and write a story. Any story they like. Which can be anywhere from one to 25 pages long (though I encourage them to lean more toward single-digit page counts) – I stress economy and precision throughout the semester. The stories they come up with are often surprisingly good.
Michael Cunningham is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Yale University.
Illustration by Adam Gale
Last week we spent half an hour or more looking in minute detail at two versions of a paragraph from Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. She seems to achieve the compression and electric intensity of her final version through minimising the connective engineering of the syntax in her sentences, taking out explanations, excising the mediating voice from around the things seen. The students went home to work on a paragraph of their own, cutting and intensifying in that way, taking out what’s flabby and banal.
In the short-story class, we spent lots of time thinking about endings. Why do the endings of short stories carry so much more weight, in proportion to the whole, than the endings of novels? We wrangle over the endings of particular stories we’ve been reading together – Dubliners, Eudora Welty, Agnes Owens and others. What satisfies, what doesn’t? How can the writer tell when it’s enough? Why has taste turned against endings that clinch too tightly, or have too much twist in the tail? The students are working on their own stories: with that reading and discussion behind them they can think with more scope and more audacity about where to go, how to sign off. Rehearsing these things collectively loosens the tight fit of fear and inhibition, imagination relaxes.
The writing course offers an audience. Everyone lifts their game in response to the exacting readers they’ll face next Tuesday. Student writers are under pressure to learn to hear themselves, to hear how they sound, to make essential judgments about tone and pace and transition. Of course, all writers have always had to learn this; a good writing course just crystallises the opportunity. In the past apprentice writers practised with a coterie of friends, or with their family, or with a mentor. Writing courses aren’t free; but I’m sure they do help to widen the circle of opportunity, beyond the metropolitan and university cliques.
Tessa Hadley is a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University.
It helps to be clean and presentable when teaching. Students react to sharp odours. It can’t be like the University of Iowa during John Cheever’s time when you could just wander in drunk and fall asleep for two hours. Today’s MFA students expect you to be awake. I also try to get students to bring in snacks because I have low-blood sugar. But the snacks are really for everyone.
Gary Shteyngart is associate professor of creative writing at Columbia University.
1) The most useful thing you can do is read someone’s work and give them specific advice regarding what is and isn’t working in their particular book. That is what goes on. It’s the non-universal stuff that is the most useful. Are you using description to cover the fact that you don’t really know your characters? Have you given your particular character a motivation that makes sense? It’s not general, it’s specific.
2) Another key thing you can help with is finding the writing routine that works best for each student. For me, when I’m working on a book, it’s around 800 words a day every single day. Five hundred words a day is too few. A thousand is too many. I can’t take the weekend off; if I do the book has dissolved to mush when I get back. So a teacher can talk to you about your process. Suggest different ways of working, different times, places, different rituals to get you in the right mental place for it. Again, this is very particular to the individual.
3) If you’re a responsible teacher, you talk to your students about money. You say: most novelists earn around £5,000 a year from their writing. You watch them blench. You say: so if you’re going to do this, you have to think about how you’re going to support yourself. I tell my students about journalism, about other kinds of writing, about crowdfunding, about grants, about balancing the day job with the novels, and the pitfalls of all of these. Most people can’t make a living only from selling their art, but almost anyone can put together a life in and around the artform they love if that’s what they really want. You help them work out how to do that.
Naomi Alderman is a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University.
At St Andrews, we tend to teach that most problems writers encounter have already been solved by other writers: students learn to be good readers first. Often the most useful exercise is just to compare some bad writing with some good, and then learn how to articulate the difference between the two. This is most bracing when the bad writing is your own. Here’s Robert Frost; here’s you. What’s the difference? Ouch. I teach in three ways: seminars on poetic composition (I take a fairly technical and linguistic approach, but not everyone does); workshops, where students can hone their editorial and critical skills; and one-to-one sessions, which address the very personal business of “art practice”. There are many useful textbooks that can help with the first two, though very few of those are about “creative writing” (a term I try to avoid anyway). Almost no books I’ve read address “practice” very satisfactorily, though many students have benefited from reading (ex-marine!) Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, which is basically the Allen Carr method for writers: just do it already.
Don Paterson is a professor of poetry at the University of St Andrews.
Chang-Rae Lee. Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian
My classes are undergraduates only. Our primary activity in the workshop is to read very closely both the workshop material and a published story, which is assigned weekly. It’s as simple as that. No use of “exercises” or discussion of “technique”. While what the pieces might “mean” to us will no doubt arise, we first and foremost pay zealous attention to the words, going sentence by sentence, considering what’s being instituted by each clause in every way possible (language, idea, structure, trope, tonality, perspective etc), appraising how the prose is developing its world and characters as well as shaping our apprehension of them.
Chang-Rae Lee is a professor of creative writing at Princeton University.
1) Lots of people can write beautiful prose, it’s structure that’s tricky. Novelists can afford to just start writing and see where it takes them, writers of non-fiction need to have a plan. Draw up a list of “landing places”, points in your narrative where your reader can have a bit of a sit down and admire the view so far. Your job as narrator is to lead them from one landing place to the next, neither chivvying them along nor allowing them to lag behind. Make sure, though, that you don’t come over like a drill sergeant. The trick of good narrative non-fiction is to allow the reader to feel that they have worked it all out for themselves.
2) Just because you are trying to learn how to write, it doesn’t mean that you need to employ an entirely new vocabulary. Be ruthless about cutting out any word that you wouldn’t use naturally in everyday speech. In real life no one calls a book “a tome” or says “she descended the stairs” or refers to “my companion”. A book is a book, people walk down the stairs and a companion is actually a friend, or a lover, or a colleague or someone you were standing next to at the bus stop. Be specific and be real.
3) It is entirely normal – in fact, it is entirely right – to feel despair during the writing process. At some point in the relationship between a creative writing tutor and a student, there will be a conversation that runs exactly like the closing lines of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 novel, The Unnamable:
When you hear these words coming out of your mouth, the best thing to do is shut up shop for the day and go and read someone who is writing the kind of stuff that you would like to. You’ll start work the next day with a better pair of ears. And good ears, actually, are what good writing is all about.
Kathryn Hughes is director of UEA’s MA programme in biography and creative non-fiction.
Illustration by Adam Gale Photograph: Adam Gale
Although we give classes on the technical aspects of writing, one of the most important things we give is more basic. It’s permission. Permission, for example, for a student on the MA to say, “I’m sorry, I really can’t come out on Friday night – I have coursework.” Because however supportive of a partner’s or friend’s or relative’s ambition to become a writer people are, they often aren’t very good at granting them the necessary time. And, for most of us, it’s easier to say, “I have coursework” than “I’m writing a novel – it’ll take me about five years, and might not get published.”
We also give students permission to experiment, and encouragement to try things that they think might fail. Even quite late on in the course, when I’m advising students about what to write for their final dissertation, they will ask me, “Can I try this?” They know it’s what they should do, they just need permission to do it. If they didn’t have someone they respected (because that person is a tutor, because they’ve been published) to say this, they might never dare – and much of their best work wouldn’t happen.
Finally, we – the teaching staff – give students permission to believe they might become “real” writers. Because, by being in the room with them, week after week, we help demystify what “real” writers are. Too many people write badly because they write up to their idea of what “real” writing should be or what a “real” writer should write. They put on literary airs. If someone holds writers in too much esteem, they’ll never become one.
Toby Litt is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Birkbeck University of London.
Joyce Carol Oates
Students in graduate writing programmes are already seriously committed writers by the time they enrol for a workshop; prospective students must apply, and only a small number are selected. Certainly in the US, many, or most, have already published short fiction. No one “teaches” young people how to write in fiction workshops; the classes might be described as intensely focused editing sessions in which manuscripts of substance are examined with the close scrutiny with which they would be examined by editors at such magazines as the New Yorker and Harpers, or in such literary publishing houses as Ecco/HarperCollins and Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.
Joyce Carol Oates is a professor of creative writing at Princeton University.
Curtis Sittenfeld. Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Guardian
Establish a writing schedule ahead of time for the coming week or month. This is more important the less time you have. If you work full-time, you might plan to write for an hour at 6am on Tuesday and Thursday, or at 4pm on Wednesday and Saturday. Write this commitment down in your diary or calendar, don’t schedule anything that conflicts with it, and sit alone somewhere you can focus when the time comes. It’s OK if you don’t produce sentences during that time, but don’t do anything else – don’t check email, don’t text, don’t go online (and for heaven’s sake, if you’re using a computer, shut all files and windows except for the one you’re working on). If some nagging errand you need to do occurs to you, write it down, but don’t start doing it.
Create an outline. This will give you a roadmap to follow and make you less likely to write yourself into a corner. It’s fine to deviate from the outline, but it’s very useful to think about the overall structure of what you’re trying to produce. Similarly, don’t go back and revise until you’ve completed a first draft. Solutions to problems tend to reveal themselves much more clearly when the whole work is finished than they do along the way.
If you don’t enjoy the process of writing in some way, you probably shouldn’t do it. While there are people who make lots of money from books, most don’t, and many writers I know have found the experience of having a first (or subsequent) book published disappointing and anticlimactic. I agree with some of what I understand to be Hanif Kureishi’s viewpoint, but I don’t think anyone knows who does or doesn’t have talent without that person giving writing a try.
Curtis Sittenfeld has taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Victoria University in New Zealand, and St Albans School in Washington.
On the MA at Goldsmiths, I work individually with students in a range of forms (novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction) but also run a specialist seminar in life writing. One key strand of the seminar is memoir, and among the exercises we’ve done this term are:
1) Restricted point of view. Recounting an episode from the perspective of someone whose eyes are sharp but whose capacity for understanding is limited. There’s a wonderful example of this in Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark, where a small boy recounts a traumatic episode (his dying sister being taken from the house by ambulance-men) while hiding under a table – all is revealed by what he observes in the movement and appearance of adult feet.
2) Bearing witness. Working in pairs, student A speaks of an episode he or she witnessed, and student B writes it up, selecting, exaggerating or even inventing key details – an exercise in how to create authenticity and demonstrate “I was there”. Orwell’s essay “A Hanging” offers a brilliant precedent, as does the first chapter of Tim Lott’s The Scent of Dried Roses, which reconstructs the day of his mother’s suicide.
3) Narrative pace. Forget what creative-writing handbooks say: narratives can’t be all showing and no telling. A 10-minute scene that runs to 50 pages might be followed by a paragraph encapsulating two years. Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Martin Amis’s Experience are bold and inventive in the way they vary pace, and I encourage students to do the same.
All such workshop exercises have the same end in sight – to help aspirant writers find the right form for the story they want to tell. The luckiest go on to publish and win acclaim – two of our former students (Ross Raisin and Evie Wyld) made Granta’s recent list of the 20 best young British novelists. But even those who don’t win prizes or publishing contracts usually benefit from the course, by articulating their ideas and experiences, and by putting writing at the centre of their lives.
Blake Morrison is a professor of creative and life writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.