Thursday, October 20, 2011

Can Creative Writing be Taught?

The prospect of a debate that might answer this frequently pondered (by me)question was attractive. Given that the speakers in the

 gorgeous surroundings of
Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 

on Friday 7th October, consisted entirely of Creative Writing teachers, the weighting in the debate leaned understandeably towards a "Yes."
Some of the points that emerged:
  • Brilliant writers don't necessarily make brilliant teachers.
  • When a teacher is grading a student's writing during a degree course, should the grade be based on the "saleability" of the writing or its "literary" value?
  • Creative writing teachers frequently encounter students who write for therapeutic reasons such as the reliving of a traumatic childhood or dealing with a life threatening illness. Writing, for these students, is a 'process not product.'

Before close of business Dr Carlo Gebler (Queen's University, Belfast)

threw open the floor for lively discussion with four suggestions:
  1. Do we as writers and teachers tell our students how "truly hideous" this business of writing actually is when it comes to making a living?
  2. To what degree are we to be "bossy boots" to our students i.e. ordering them to "improve" their writing to the way we tell them to?
  3. What degree of "pastoral" care to we give to students who are depressed and are using the classes as therapy?
  4. How do you assess quality?  It is only the teacher's opinion, after all.
Even after (me) posing my frequently pondered question to the floor as to whether the teachers felt talent or imagination can be taught, the answer to the theme of the day didn't really manifest itself. Perhaps there is no definitive answer...

 The  writing as therapy bit did give food for thought, though.  As a diehard "journaler"

I'm a firm believer in getting it all off the chest, onto the non-judgemental blank page. Such comfort that brings, especially reading back and wondering in hindsight what all the worry was about in the first place. 
Check this link - seems the whole writing as therapy thing has been going on for ages.


Debbie said...

That's a sticky one, Mari. While there are techniques and tips to be learned, and writing can be improved within that framework, surely there are so many styles and subjects out there it must boil down to taste in the end. There are writers I admire whose styles and genres aren't my favourite, and vice versa. Then there are John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, Andy Stanton and Bob Dylan who are just outrageously and inarguably superb ... and that, of course, is a fact. Debbie X

Mari G said...

HI Debbie. It's the whole thing of depending on the tutor's opinion and the thing of "workshopping" where a group (the class) decide what's good or bad about a piece that leaves me so unsure about teaching creative writing.
I consistently enjoy the social aspect of the workshops though!