Par for the course

I’ve never had training. Never had any sort of writing teaching since GCSE (I got a B). Now I look at all the adverts for MAs, MSTs and whatever in Creative Writing and I wonder what they could do for me.

Would I learn how to deepen my characters and sharpen my dialogue? I suppose I would. Would I examine classic literature to analyse the techniques used? And of course there’s the one-to-one time with mentors and experts that would always be the most exciting part of any course for me. And finally I might learn what a damn gerund is.

But Hanif Kureshi – himself a professor of creative writing at Kingston University – has said that writing courses are ‘a waste of time’. He doesn’t think it’s possible to teach storytelling. I once applied for a writing fellowship and, whilst with hindsight I’m not surprised at my failure, I do wonder if the fact that I write genre and not literature was part of the problem.

It appears as is there’s a lot of snobbery endemic in university writing departments, as evidenced from the quote on Kent University’s 2013 prospectus. Its teachers ‘love great literature and don’t see any reason why our students should not aspire to produce it… We love writing that is full of ideas, but that’s also playful, funny and affecting. You won’t write mass-market thrillers or children’s fiction on our programmes.’

The backlash to this got it quickly removed from KU’s website. But how common is this attitude? That ‘literature’ is the only form of writing that matters? That crime writing, romance and all genre fiction is somehow what those with less ability and less imaginative write because they’re not good enough for ‘proper’ writing?

By way of contrast, City University London offers a specialist MA in crime writing. And University of Central Lancashire offers one in self-publishing (although this has been criticised for going too far the other way, with minimal advice on the actual writing – I quote: ‘the country’s 1st MA in self-publishing to help writers gain the skills they need to “become the next EL James”’. Because that’s really something to aspire to).

Every time I pick up a writing magazine or go to a festival website I’m bombarded by adverts pointing me at creative writing courses. But these can cost up to £9,000 a year. And whilst they may teach excellently, they still don’t result in a guaranteed career as a writer. They omit to teach skills writers need in the modern world; things like self-promotion, networking (although it strikes me that if you can get a recommendation from someone like Hanif Kureshi you’ve got a pretty good start there) or the simple facts of the publishing business.

So should I go on a creative writing course? I’m always tempted. At the very, very least it’d be stimulating, right? To have to write, to be surrounded by other writers, to feed off their enthusiasms, to bounce off their ideas…

There’s no way I could do this, not in my situation and with my complete lack of money. But I’d be interested if anyone out there has any experiences to share.