1. kiesi

    kiesi New Member

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    Are fiction writing courses really not worth it?

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by kiesi, Dec 9, 2016.

    Why do a lot of writers say that fiction writing courses hinder a writer’s creativity because it imposes some set “rules” which the writer has to follow? That isn’t true. Yes, there are deadlines which you have to meet, but you can pretty much write about anything you want, and then a published author with a Ph.D. in English and bunch of aspiring writers like you provide feedback, after learning how to give constructive feedback.

    I can understand wanting to break the rules as a writer and be super creative, but you can’t break anything if you don’t know what it is that you're breaking. And you don’t want to be too creative. Having structure as a writer is very important. Here is an article where a lot of creative writing professors talk about how they teach and what they do in class.

    Quote from the article:
    “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.”


    I’m an English major, and the learning outcome of the first two of my fiction writing courses are to:
    • Identify the basic elements of a short story and analyze works of short fiction.
    • Draft, develop, and revise your own original short stories.
    • Reflect critically on your own work and writing strategies to apply them to future personal creative work.
    • Analyze the role of specific formal elements in work of other students and provide useful and collegial criticism and feedback.
    • Analyze the effect of formal elements of novels and short fiction on reader response.
    • Apply critique and revision strategies to revise specific features of a work of fiction, such as style, plot, dialog, and point of view.
    It doesn’t seem bad to me. Can anyone construct a proper, logical argument as to why fiction writing courses aren't worth it? If you have any experiences with creative writing courses, can you mention them? Did it help you or hurt you?
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2016
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  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    That's not the usual argument I see against these courses.

    Whether they're worth it depends on your goals - what you want to get out of the course. So for some people they are worth it, for some there aren't.

    I believe that for most people, they aren't worth it. Some reasons:
    • You can get everything they offer free and on your own timetable.
    • Nobody in publishing cares what writing qualifications you do or don't have.
    • Depending on the others on the course, it might discourage you from writing or make your writing worse, because so much critique is subjective.
     
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  3. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree--it's a bit of a jump to go from "not worth it" to "hinder a writer's creativity". I mean, the wrong course certainly could hinder someone's creativity, but I don't think that's the general argument that's made against the courses most of the time.

    So if we're just looking at "worth it" we'd need to work out what "it" is, ie. what are you giving up in order to take the course? Money, often, which is a factor for some people but not for others. Time, certainly, which, again, is in short supply for some but not all of us. And then of course we'd have to look at "worth", like, what are you hoping to get from the course and is it realistic to expect that you'll be successful with that goal?

    Nothing is simple.
     
  4. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    Confident pens forget, or are ignorant, of anxieties of those who carry a passion for writing deep inside themselves.

    ...people who feel they never do, or did, anything about it, 'too late for me,' and they fear being seen a fool when they finally do put 'pen to paper.'

    One of the most wonderful, and exhilarating feelings, is to only write a paragraph, maybe in a classroom one day a month, directed by a tutor, among a group, housewives/big burly macho guys asked to write from 'the perspective of a young girl' says the tutor...it reads ridiculous...but it is a kind of freedom for people. They go drink coffee afterwards and are captivated:

    'Oh Peter,' says a strange woman, 'I thought your depiction was marvellous...the way you...'

    'I never thought of it like that before...' he says.

    Peter strides like a new man for a week, he can do this thing, he can write...

    ...

    Cynicism must come much later in the process, I think.
     
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  5. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    Like anything else, it depends how the end user uses it. Does the end user feel they need it?

    I grew up with a Masters in English mom. English rules were pounded into our heads. However, I love to learn. So for me, a pay class is not worth it, but a free class is. And of course, a pay class would be worth it to me if being taught by someone I wanted to pay to learn from.
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I suspect some fiction classes could hinder creativity if they are badly taught or taught by people who think its "my way or wrong" but there's no reason a well taught class would by someone who knows what they are doing would actively harm your writing.

    that said I agree with jannert - you can get all the content free from magazines, books and interweb , and publishers don't care. which makes it hard to justify a course unless you are well off enough for "because I want to", to be all the reason you need
     
  7. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    If you're speaking of writing workshop classes where you can participate in 'show and tell' turn I'd say for the most part it is nice and can get you some very good contacts.

    I've taken several workshop classes aside from college lecture classes and I did get a more realistic insight on my writing path. Also, I got a much better idea on where my work stands. There were awkward things in my writing that needed... Gobsmacking. Lol..

    But like others say, you can also learn that on your own and save the money.
     
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  8. kiesi

    kiesi New Member

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    Can you learn effectively enough on your own to say that a college course would've been the same, though? How do you know if you're learning the right things and practicing good habits? Anyone can sit down and write a bunch of jibberish in an unfashioned manner, and anyone can read a story and "feel" it but not truly understand the elements of it.

    Classes teach you how to channel your creativity into a sellable, readable story. I'm sure you can learn the same things without taking a class, but it would probably take much longer and even then, you may still be making some mistakes which someone, like a published author and professor with a Ph.D. in English, could've fixed very quickly in a class.
     
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  9. kiesi

    kiesi New Member

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    I'm aware that most published authors haven't taken any formal writing classes. I opened this thread up for debate because I hear and read it frequently--"Creativity can't be taught! Those classes are a waste of your time, and you won't learn anything taking them!"

    I just wanted to see if someone could give me a proper reason for me to take these classes off of my list and instead take something more useful--like a math or science course, which I don't think is more useful. Just different.
     
  10. EnginEsq

    EnginEsq Member

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    Are you?

    I can't speak to percentages, but a lot of published lawyers have law degrees. ABA accredited law schools all require a legal writing course to graduate, and have for many years. So any author who has a law degree has probably taken a formal writing class.

    So why do you think most published authors have not taken a formal writing class?
     
  11. kiesi

    kiesi New Member

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    @EnginEsq

    I'm not sure if I entirely understand you here. You seem to be under the misbelief that most published authors are lawyers and are therefore implying that most published authors have taken formal writing courses because lawyers take writing courses. However, we are talking about authors in general and not law writers specifically.

    I consider "formal writing courses" any upper-level courses which an English or Writing major would take, so I don't count the two basic college-level English courses which every college student takes as formal writing courses. And I personally find it highly doubtful that most novelists are English majors, so I was making a presumption there based on my own experiences of reading about the childhoods and educations of a lot of novelists. Most did not have a degree, while some had a degree in an area unrelated to English like mathematics or science--depending on what field they were writing about.

    No, I have not looked at the statistics nor do I care to, but one such example of a writer who has never taken a formal writing course is William Shakespeare, and so the main point I was trying to get across with that sentence was that one does not need to take a formal writing course to become a published author; although, I do believe that it can be of heavy help, which is why I created this thread to see if anyone could defy the statement by saying that "No, creative writing courses won't help you", followed by (hopefully) a properly constructed argument with basis.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2016
  12. EnginEsq

    EnginEsq Member

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    Which of the words "I can't speak to percentages" and "a lot of" do you not understand?

    I suggest you give up any dreams you have of writing. You can't write if you don't know how to read.

    But you're willing to state "most published authors haven't taken any formal writing classes" based on your ignorance.

    You should definitely give up on being a writer. Your inability to read and to reason are fatal flaws.
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    I think the writing course has to fit the author. Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to take it and see. Even more unfortunately, the cost of the course often convinces people that they'd better get something out of it, even if it's a bad fit.

    I took post-grad scriptwriting about ten years ago, back when I was still trying to make my way in the film biz. I'd already learned quite a bit from trial and error, but I had no idea which tidbits of knowledge would result in writing a screenplay that would sell. I was hoping the one-year course would help me sort that out, but it didn't. We were exposed to a wide range of approaches to plotting and writing the synopsis and finally the screenplay itself, but none of those approaches hit home for me. As a result, I spent the next five years searching further afield for something—anything—that would help me understand how to write a screenplay that would sell.

    This whole endeavor was hampered by the fact that I'd burned myself out over the nine months I spent in that course. The demands were quite high. We had to produce a polished full-length screenplay, a show bible for a TV series along with a pilot script, three stage plays (one with a partner), a radio play, five PSAs (Public Service Announcments) and three short films (script, casting, shooting, editing, etc.). With all the drafts for all of these, I wrote a total of some 6,000 pages by the end of the course and for the next five years, I couldn't write a damned thing. Whether that was because I was on medication throughout the course, had a bad year for story ideas or discouragement because I hadn't learned what I'd set out to learn, I can't say.

    But the bottom line is, I think if I'd researched courses beforehand to find a good match instead of taking the first one I found, I might have come out of it better.
     
  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Forums like this cover a lot of that ground - also there's no guarantee that your class will be taught by an English Ph.D (and even if it is, I've met professors who would struggle to know a best seller from a hole in the ground) and if the class is taught by a published author the chances are it won't be Lee Child, J K Rowling, Margaret Atwood, George R R Martin, or in fact anyone even remotely well known ... those people don't need to teach class to make up their income. Chances are high that the only thing the tutor will have published is "Write your way to success in 7 easy steps" or some such.
     
  15. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    As mentioned above, what you hope to achieve is important. If you're paying for a creative writing degree, chances are you'll have to find a day job to support your writing career. On a related note, I remember reading an article that said creative writing departments didn't do enough to promote their students. I agree with that. I think creative writing programs, especially at the undergraduate level, would be significantly better if students were given more guidance on how to submit, where to submit, etc.

    Also, what you get out of creative writing classes depends on two things. The first is how much effort you put into it. Like anything else, the more you're willing to learn, the more you'll benefit. Second, most (all?) creative writing classes have critique groups, so how much you get out of the class also depends on how much effort your peers are willing to put into their critiques. Unfortunately, you have little control over this, but top programs tend to have better critiquers from what I've heard.

    To directly answer your question, they can be worth it depending on your goals. Some MFA programs actually pay their students a stipend, so you're essentially being paid to write. Taking a class or two in college won't hurt, and it'll at least give you an idea of how these classes are structured. If you're on the fence about it, I say take a class if you have room in your schedule. At the very least, it'll make for a good learning experience.
     
  16. kiesi

    kiesi New Member

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    @EnginEsq

    What was the point of your original post? To me, it seemed like a pointless statement way out of context. If you haven’t looked at the statistics either, then your rebuttal or whatever that was was pointless as well. Are you just trying to pick an argument? Because you already lost seeing as how you’re attacking me and just spewing nonsense for no real reason at all besides to be overly pedantic. I'm sure most writers can agree with me that most writers do not have a formal writing education because otherwise more than half the authors you'd read about would have an English degree.

    @big soft moose
    Forums like these are riddled with writing errors, and they won't teach you how to thoroughly analyze anything either. The workshop is good, though, and the community can be very helpful, but it's still not the same as a college-level course. All the English instructors at my school are published authors with a Ph.D. in English and are very knowledgeable about the courses they teach. They aren't as renowned as the people you mentioned, but they are still very good. And it won't be anything like "7 easy steps."
    Some people are into academia, editing, and teaching, while some just write books for a living, so I don't think it's fair to say that just because someone isn't famous isn't as smart.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2016
  17. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Um...this is quite, quite rude of you, and I, too, didn't see the relevant of the authors/lawyers discussion. I suspect that you painted yourself into a corner of non-logic; when that happens, it's generally best to just admit it and move on, rather than defend it to the death.
     
  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Now that I've snarked at @EnginEsq, I feel the need to say that you're not really supporting your assertion. To do so, you'd need to point at statistics proving that half of authors don't have an English degree. You'd also need to prove that an English degree is the only way to get formal writing education. Then we'd have to argue whether "formal writing education" is fulfilled by a class or two, or if it requires a full focused degree program.

    This thread hasn't offered enough information to tel us whether "most" published authors do or don't have substantial formal education focused on writing.

    And do we really care? I'm pretty confident that there are published authors whose educational focus was not writing. Do we care if it's "most" or not?
     
  19. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    They don't seem to have taught you not to start sentences with "And" and the rest of the construction of that sentence leaves a lot to be desired too. Not to mention the wondrous sentence construction of "so I don't think it's fair to say that just because someone isn't famous isn't as smart" ( rather than "so I don't think its fair to say that just because someone isn't famous they aren't smart ")

    If that's typical of the standard of literacy taught by your English Ph.D lecturers we can pretty much rest our case.
     
  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Rather more telling is that these published authors didn't need formal education in writing in order to become published authors. Not to mention that many English degrees (and post degree study) focus on the study and analysis of other peoples work rather than how to write your own.

    My father was and English D.phil from Oxford. He could quote large tracts of Shakespeare, Milton, Pope , Chaucer, Spenser etc and minutely analyse and argue the meaning and subtext, but his own creative writing was awful. It was I'll grant technically perfect , much better than mine but he didn't have the ability to write spontaneously or creatively or capture the reader in a world brought to life. Everything he wrote was dry, boring and ultimately unreadable.

    Whether this was a consequence of his academic work or in spite of it is hard to say but it did demonstrate to me that an academic qualification in English does not necessarily make you a writer.
     
  21. kiesi

    kiesi New Member

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    @big soft moose

    If you're going to point out my mistakes (when I don't have any), at least know how to and when to properly place commas, since you seem to be missing several in your posts. And you have several fused sentences and misspellings as well. I have not taken one college course yet, so good job on being prejudice. I will be starting my courses next month.

    Also, there is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction. That's the kind of stuff you learn not to do in third grade because some elementary school teachers are halfwits, while the rest just want to make sure that students don't repetitively start sentences with a conjunction.
    Quote from here:
    “There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.”

    Additionally, you mocked my sentence construction when there was nothing wrong with it, and then you included your “improved” version -- “so I don’t think its fair to say that just because someone isn’t famous they aren’t smart.” I’ll assume the missing apostrophe in “its” is a typo, but then you also have a fused and badly constructed sentence there --“just because someone isn’t famous they aren’t smart.”
    A way to make the sentence better would've been to just add an "as" before "famous," so something along the lines of "It's not fair to say that someone isn't as smart as someone just because they aren't as famous as that person."

    As for your father, good for him. However, whether his creative writing pieces were good or not is quite subjective. Different people like different things. There are many great texts which never get to see the light of day.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016

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