Sunday, 17 January 2010

Busy old fool

...unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows and through curtains call on us?

Yes, the sun is shining today on the melting snow. I cannot remember a day when I was more pleased to see it. Doesn't it make you feel better?

I have been reading about whether or not it is possible to teach Creative Writing - the jury seems to be out on this one. I would have said not, but having read all the articles on it I can see that perhaps it can be taught to some extent. After all, if one wishes to be a Composer then Music College is a good place to start; similarly if you wish to become a painter then it seems sensible to go to Art School - so why should it be any different?
It transpires that quite a few of our present day writers who have won prizes or written best sellers have themselves done M A's in writing creatively. Ian McEwen was Sir Malcolm Bradbury's first pupil (Atonement). Adam Foulds andKazuo Ishiguro and Ann Enright too have completed courses.
In The Times yesterday David Lodge argues for and against. He agrees that writing skills can be improved with expert tuition but he goes on to say that a good writer will have certain innate faculties - sensitivity to language, the ability to recall all he has seen or heard, and the ability to make connections between what he calls "disparate phenomena" which he argues is at the root of all creative activity.
I would agree with this but I would add something else as well. In addition to all these attributes then the creative writer - particularly if he/she wishes to write a play or a novel - needs staying power and discipline. It is said that we all have at least one novel inside us - that may well be true but how many of us have the talent to stick with it day in, day out and get it all out of our system and on to the page?
As for me, I find that this daily blog-write is enough to keep me going with my creative writing - and you are all kind enough a) to read it and b) not to correct my spelling/grammar/mistakes.
I have just read a book from the library in which some pedantic soul had made many alterations by crossing out the offending word/phrase and writing the correction in the margin.
To misquote Winston Churchill - this is something which doesn't occur in blogland and is something up with which I would not put!



Poet in Residence said...

What an interesting subject for a post, Weaver. As you say, the jury is out. I'm looking forward to reading the reactions that come in.

As for the novel, I think the main thing is stickability. I don't have it, thank goodness. Nothing worse than boring myself to grey-haired distraction for the sake of a novel nobody is going to read.

I may have mentioned it before but I think the following book contains the best advice I've ever read for would-be writers: Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W Phillips (Simon & Schuster / Touchstone).

jinksy said...

If we don't have anybody to underline our mistakes, be they grammar or spelling, how are we to improve? I'm quite happy to be ticked off by a reader when I goof! And can you honestly say, you are able to read a post which has absolutely no capital letters used, and not be smitten by an urge to overtype?! LOL :)

steven said...

hello weaver, i think that many people are born with an innate sense of themselves as creative but the mechanics of expressing themselves creatively obscure the flow of their expression. all too often i see young people trying to fit their expression into a frame, the result being that they focus on what they are supposed to do and say rather than what they need to do and say. i wonder how many natural talents have been contained in that sorry little box? this is not to say that there isn't a place for spelling, grammar, form whatever but that there is also a place for personal expression that leaves behind the need for capital letters for example! (so sorry jinksy!!!)
the wish to correct other people's expression has much more to do with the person doing the "correcting's" world view, than about the writing itself!! steven

Studio Sylvia said...

I think the talent has to lie within and College/University/School helps nurture that talent. One may learn the mechanics of a craft, however if the passion and soul is non-existent, then the expression of self is not manifested - just an outpouring of the 'tricks of the trade'. I have taught children writing - some could write the most wonderful pieces, but their spelling and punctuation were atrocious. However their writing had 'soul'. Others could write with the mechanics executed accurately but there was no passion, no giving of self.

Cindee said...

Hello Dear Weaver,
As someone who has taken a number of creative writing classes, I will tell you that the best classes have teachers who ask a lot of questions and have you learn from your own answers. They make you go deep inside your mind and find lots of interesting tidbits hidden there.
I think you are already an excellent writer!

Cindee said...

One more thing, The real art of writing is what you write, not how. Leave the corrections for the editors and concentrate on the content.

Heather said...

Well said Weaver. I found it quite hard chosing the right words to explain my working methods to you recently and hoped I had expressed myself clearly, so can appreciate the hard work that goes into any kind of writing. To express one's thoughts clearly is a gift in itself and to create an entire cast of characters and get them to interact with one another, set scenes and think of plots is an enormous task. Hats off to those who do it so well.

Granny Sue said...

We can be taught how to write properly, but can you teach a person to think creatively? The teacher, I think, would be training writers how to explore ideas, be open to new experiences, think in new ways, block out what is and consider what might be.

My mother used to write in library books, "Smutty trash. Not worth reading!" As a librarian, I was appalled and at the same time exasperatedly amused at her efforts because those words would cause a good many people to read the book just to see what she disliked so much.

Cloudia said...

I agree with David WITH your addendum.

Blogging does satisfy little Hawaii novel "Aloha Where You Like Go?" is my child, my gift to the world, my apologia, but it took 10 years from idea to book in hand!

When asked when the "next" one will be ready, I always think (but don't say) "Done that!"

Aloha, My Friend

(have you seen our Anglican cathedral at today's post?)

Comfort Spiral

dinesh chandra said...

It is very intesting subject, the post is very good to read.


Dinesh Chandra

Elisabeth said...

I agree with the three central ideas you explore here: that writing can be improved though learning about it; that to write and complete a book of merit, at a certain literary level, requires a degree of talent; and finally, that to write successfully one needs a capacity to persevere or to have, as I once read elsewhere, enough 'bum glue' to keep you at the task.

Thanks Weaver for an interesting post as always.

Poet in Residence said...

Weaver, Many thanks for flagging up the Haiti thing and for everybody's comments. I've contacted the Canada office of Reporters Without Borders. Maybe it's a way forward.

Rachel Fox said...

Re creative writing classes/courses...I think it depends on the individual. Some people want and need a course to give them direction/confidence/hints/nudges, others are quite happy and productive working completely on their own.

Dave King said...

My instinct is the same as yours - that you probably cannot teach it in the sense in which the phrase is normally meant. Obviously, you can give a student a grounding that you hope will serve them well. We do that in school, though rarely call it creative writing, but you can give hints and tips and you can give prompts to get a person started, but that's it, there are no rights and wrongs, so you cannot teach it, on ly facilitate it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

As Gwilym rightly says - this is an interesting subject and we will all have differing views. I shall now read Hemingway's book on the subject of writing - Orwell's book on the same subject is interesting. I think the main thing is to get one's head down and write, write, write. And let's face it, we are not all going to make great novelists.

Thank you for the comments - much appreciated and very interesting to read.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I read a piece about creative writing recently via a blog (though I can't remember where!) which I could see would be of great help in making a person think differently about their work. But I agree that the creativeness needs to be there inside. As for grammar etc. we all make mistakes but for some readers excessive errors can distract from the actual content.

Poet in Residence said...


A useful link to a list of the

It's at GEORGE ORWELL on my blog A-Z Links but I think Dominic has the ORWELL DIARIES link too.

Reader Wil said...

I am amazed that somebody has the nerve to cross out offending words in a library book, and put the correction in the margin.
To write a book takes a lot of talent, patience, knowledge of the subject of your book, and apart from this you need not despair if people don't understand you.

elizabethm said...

I am not sure you can teach but suspect you can give confidence and direction to those who have talent and perhaps don't appreciate it!

Leilani Lee said...

Thanks for your comments and the tip on Mad Bush Farm. She seems a lovely person. As soon as things wind down a bit, I am going to go investigate her blog a bit more and perhaps find a kindred spirit. It is so difficult at times trying to explain what life with this child has been like, most people just don't "get it"!

Eryl Shields said...

I think Dave King says it perfectly: creative writing courses facilitate rather than teach creativity. It's much the same as teaching visual art, the potential and talent need to be innate but the techniques and skills can, and usually need to be, taught/learnt. Some lucky people can teach themselves, some need guidance.

What has really helped me – I'm just finishing an M.Litt in creative writing – were tutors who, once they got to know how I tick, were able suggest writers it could have taken me years to discover but whose work really sparked something in my own. And, of course, the irritating questions tutors ask such as, 'why do you switch tenses half way through?' It really helps one get to know one's writing goals trying to answer such questions.

The Weaver of Grass said...

What an interesting lot of comments - thank you for taking the time to really think about this. As usual they are really well-worth reading through. In addition you will see the Poet has given us a link to the 100 best creative writers - that is well-worth a look too.
Also please look at the comments on Haiti and click on the link on my blog if you would like to help.

BT said...

Oh John Donne I believe!! I had the misfortune of having the 'Metaphysical Poets' to study for English Literature A Level many years ago and I still remember some of the quotes. To be fair, I actually quite enjoyed a lot of the poems but they took some understanding. I loved the way some of them led quite debauched lives, then 'got God' in later life so they could be sure of their ticket to heaven!!

Anyway, what was all that about? I suppose you can teach something of creative writing. Stop, think about different adjectives, etc. I don't know really, but from your list, it seems it worked for some.

I wouldn't write in a library book even if it was riddled with mistakes. I make too many myself!