1. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I am opposed to Creative Writing courses of all types

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nightstar99, Jul 19, 2016.

    If you read world's most successful author Stephen King, then there is plenty of telling. Many of his books start even with a long narrative that meanders s between an omniscient narrator and characters' own reflections. It works for him because thats how he writes, and he has a story that he loves telling.

    100 Years of Solitude is a an exercise in narrative telling that doesn't let up.

    J.K. Rowling is very fond of adverbs.

    All these authors get to sit on the Squirrel Creek Liberal Arts College Creative Writing Major naughty step, because they don't use styles which fit 2000 people at once with the same assignment and a template 5 day marking turnaround.

    It seems to me that there are "rules" which have been made up by creative writing tutors to try and level out all their students (customers) which essentially amount to deleting some of the tools a writer has that are in any way difficult to use, assess, or that require innate ability.

    Screw the rules.

    I think as a writer you have to be able to use a variety of methods where and when appropriate for your story, and be able to read it back and tell if its any good or not yourself. If you can't liberate yourself to write how you want, how are you going to create anything; or enjoy what you are doing (because you almost certainly aren't going to make much money out of it)?

    Cormack MaCarthy uses a very spare writing style that hits all the CW "must do" targets, but he is also a very good writer and that is his style. No one is going to be Cormack MaCarthy because they don't use telling.

    Were there even any Creative Writing courses before the 1980s? The vast majority of successful authors in the history of the world had no idea there were any rules, let along having pondered an MA in Creative Writing.
     
  2. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    I think most writers would agree with you, even the ones who have done creative writing courses.

    ...once you know them [my opinion] or you run the risk of reinventing the wheel, and being boring.

    Not true. There was this bloke called Aristotle, had some ideas about structure...

    -----

    What am I trying to say?

    Best sellers usually follow a formula [debatable but I think it's true], so learning the formula is a good idea, wherever you learn it.

    Literature as art – art, real art, by its very nature is elitist. How are you going to create something new if you don't know what came before (how is one... I'm being impersonal)? How can you make an original comment on the human condition if you're still grappling with grammar?

    You don't need a creative writing class to learn these things, but such classes are one way to do so.

    -----

    I have never done creative writing course.

    All of this is just an opinion.

    Good teachers are hard to find.
     
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  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Funny, the courses I took in college had greatly improved my writing capabilities. It wasn't just this forum that helped me, y'know. But hey, who am I to talk? I'm the guy who took the courses. :D
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a bit of a leap to go from these ideas to opposing ALL creative writing courses. What if there was a creative writing course that convinced students to adopt your way of thinking? What if there was one that exposed writers to all the different tools and helped them learn when to use which?
     
  5. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    Thats a good point. I would like to change my stance to:

    I AM MOSTLY OPPOSED TO MOST CREATIVE WRITING COURSES
     
  6. BWriter
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    BWriter Member

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    I am currently studying for a degree in English and Creative Writing and I had some of the same thoughts before I started. After finishing my first year I have changed. There are rules to writing but they are not law. You can break them as much as you want but it is better to do it when you know the rule and the effect breaking it will have. I believe all they are trying to do is show me as many ways of working as they can to help me develop my own style. Courses aren't for everyone but my writing has got a lot better since I started. Also I have been introduced to some great writers that I would probably never have read otherwise.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I would say write first, take courses and read books on creative writing later. If you've already written something major (a novel, a bunch of short stories or poems, whatever) you'll spend time on the course looking at how to improve what you've written or add to the way you write—rather than staring at a bunch of 'rules' to follow, and wondering if you've got the chops to make it as a writer after all.

    If you've already written something substantial, THEN is when to start learning how to make it better. In my opinion, anyway.
     
  8. BWriter
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    BWriter Member

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    Surely anyone interested in doing a creative writing course is already writing. How would you define substantial. As for self doubt, I kind of assumed that was part of this whole writing thing, almost all the people I speak to have to deal with that.
     
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  9. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You must ignore anybody who says "You must do this!" but any suggestion that you decide for yourself whether you want to use or not is still a useful suggestion.

    A lot of people on this site rail against "writing by committee:" if a newcomer mentions a plot element that s/he is working on and wants feedback on how to develop it, they are immediately told "come up with your own idea" (Which raises the question of what those responders are doing on this site in the first place :wtf:).

    Yeah, so it's annoying when you're able to construct the entire book ahead of time because the author asked for validation about every plot, character, and theme element, but when somebody asks about a single element, then idea is not

    "If somebody tells me to do it a certain way, then I must do it exactly that way without deviation"

    the idea is

    "A bunch of people will give me different ideas for how to develop it, and I will decide for myself whether a given idea fits with my vision for the story as a whole. Maybe none of the ideas will work but they'll inspire me to come up with something completely different, maybe I'll be able to combine two ideas that the original two posters didn't know could be combined"
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is very much an overreaction. Yes, some writing instructors advocate rules regarding show v. tell, adverbs, etc., but even for those who do it comprises a small part of the overall course. Being against such courses generally doesn't make sense.
     
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  11. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I am opposed to anybody wearing socks with sandals.
     
  12. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Personally I would be careful with a "screw the rules" mentality and this is coming from someone who regularly breaks rule. I think you should be cautious if you are starting out. Stephen King is a pro, he knows how to break rules and do it well. So I would never compare myself to him or someone like him at this point. In general I agree that some rules on writing are stupid "dont tell me about the story just tell the story" that one annoys me too, many many books start off with telling you about the story and I happen to like them. You can break rules but you have to do so mindfully I think.
     
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  13. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    I heartily agree with @BWriter. I was extremely skeptical when I began my creative writing course. The first tutorial gave me flashbacks to the great vat of wank that was my "Professional Diploma in Marketing." (Sorry, fellow marketers.) But... I found it really useful. It forced me to try different ways of telling a story. Some I liked and kept using, some I was less crazy about.

    A good tutor won't be too fixated on the 'rules' either. One of our 'rules' was that your protagonist should never be alone, or at least not for very long - you should get someone else into the scene as fast as you possibly can. I wrote an entire story where my protagonist interacted with no-one. My tutor loved it.

    I reckon creative writing course 'rules' are a little like the Pirate Code:
    [​IMG]
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There are no rules for writing. There are only things that you might want to be aware of, because if you do them too much, most readers start to notice them.

    I think some people get down on creative writing courses because some of the how-to-write books are pretty didactic and offensively lowbrow (I'm looking at you, Dwight Swain, you hack who trains otherwise intelligent people to write like hacks). However, there are how-to books and courses that barely mention any rules, but rather seek to inspire by introducing students to some of the best (and most various) writing ever done, and explaining how such writing achieves its effects (I'm looking at you, John Gardner, you wonderful writing teacher!).

    Be aware of the "rules", sure, but be prepared to break them whenever you want to in the service of a higher art. Write like a free human being, and keep at it until your prose sings to you.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Whatever you do, do it with purpose and deliberation. If you show, show with reason. If you tell, tell with intent. When you adverb, know that you are adverbing and make a deliberate choice. Know your tools. Know what they do and don't do. Know their jobs and use them for their purposes, and do this knowingly. A screwdriver drives in screws quite well. A hammer doesn't work so well on screws, but that doesn't make a hammer a bad tool. It's just got a different job. It's for nails. A screwdriver sucks for nails, but a hammer is just the thing.

    Stop thinking in terms of rules, in terms of do and don't. It's a toolbox. That's why we use the word craft so often when we speak of writing. Any apprentice in any craft or trade wherein there are specialized tools learns - first and foremost - what the different tools do, where they go, their care and conservation, loooooong before the person running the shop ever lets the apprentice actually work on an end item. The apprentice needs to learn why this tool is better for this job, even though, yes, of course, that tool will work too, but not as well, not as finely, not as precisely.

    Tools, not rules.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you know that creative writing programs actually teach those rules? I'm not saying they don't--I don't know. But I'd like to clarify the premise here.
     
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  17. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I love creative writing courses. I got an MFA in fiction so I took a lot of these writing courses. I never found anyone telling a writer they really can't do something. It was more liken does what they wrote work. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. Everyone in my cohort had the goal of publishing. Anything wrong with my writing I took as a lesson learned. Because of getting an MFA my writing improved at a much faster pace than it would have without those courses.

    We weren't expected to learn writing rules but pretty much were aware of them. Advanced level classes are run a little differently than undergrad in my experience. I tried out some really experimental stories and some standard storytelling. I never saw anyone cut down for rule breaking.

    Honestly, I'm thinking of doing an online class or something. I like the interaction and lessons. I like sharing my writing with the class and reading their works. I like getting better, and find writing courses the easiest way to improve ones writing over a few short months. Having the right instructor can make a big difference. I think if rule breaking is being brought up in your critiques, it's not so much that you broke some rules, but maybe somethings aren't working they way you thought or intended. Be open to change and growth.
     
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  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I only took one course in creative writing. The professor made us aware of those "rules," but his take on it was we should understand why they're there and then know how to break them effectively when we don't want to follow them. That's about as close as he got to any kind of absolute.
     
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  19. Alex R. Encomienda
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    Alex R. Encomienda Active Member

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    No other author uses telling besides Cormack? What does that mean exactly?

    .. When I took several writing classes in college I already knew how to write. It was intuitive for me, BUT I only knew my style. I only wrote according to what I know but then there's a whole mess of styles other writers used. I think it's important to see what others are doing on paper so you can write with a more open mind. And also, I was taught by published authors so it was very informative to understand how to get from point A to point C without missing B, if you get what I'm saying.
     
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  20. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    CW tutor Gloria faced the new intake of students, the housewives, the stoner, the retired gentleman. Among them one voice dominated pre-lecture proceedings. She smiled as ever, always the same, a wanker in the back row.

    'I tell you it's the emperor's new clothes, the emperor's new clothes,' he wailed, fidgeted, a cravat dressed round his chins.

    Gloria gargled, she spat her bubblegum, it landed on the cravat. She began every September lecture this way, an inspirational prompt to creative juses bleh bleh and bleh bleh the poetry.
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Not necessarily. I've run into quite a number of people (personally) who say "I'd love to write (a novel, a memoir, etc) but I don't know where to start. I'll need to find a writing course." I've told them "Just start, and see what you come up with," and they shudder and walk away.

    A good way to feel inadequate about writing is to feel you can't start writing until you've learned the 'rules.'

    If you have already written something substantial on your own (my original post said: If you've already written something major—a novel, a bunch of short stories or poems, whatever) you will probably get a great deal of inspiration and help from a good writing course. You'll go into the course knowing you can write, but that it's far from perfect. Now you just want to improve, and to get some new tips and perspectives for fixing your work.

    If the course deals with dialogue, for example, and you've already written dialogue, you can look at your earlier work and go: 'oh, right, I see why that's not working.' You will discover that writing mistakes can easily be sorted, and nothing is written in stone (unless you're writing in stone. :)) You will see the course as offering tips for writing. Not rules—tips.

    If you have never written dialogue, however, you may be tempted to stick to whatever the course leader suggests, and your writing may lack the creative spark that comes when you choose what you want to say and how you want to say it. You may be tempted to write to 'please the teacher,' rather than creating and improving your own voice. This can be restricting, especially if you have a teacher who insists that their way is the only way—or the best way—to write.

    There are as many ways to approach writing as there are people. My view is my own, and it won't be for everybody. Creative writing courses are as varied as the people who teach them, and they certainly are popular. Can't argue with that.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2016
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  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    THANK YOU for that. Excellent advice. Tools not rules. Has a ring to it. You won't use a hammer for every DIY issue, but that doesn't mean you should never use a hammer.
     
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  23. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    A good way to defer writing that novel you claim you've got inside you is tell people you can't start writing until you've learned the 'rules.'
     
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  24. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Fantastic advice. I've been looking for a way to give up this writing malarkey...


    ;)
     
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  25. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    Hey, now. That was me. Be nice. Ended up getting a story idea out of the experience that evolved into a piece about the absolute necessity of bullsh*t/semi-rules (depending on your point of view) to everyday life.
     
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