On March 2nd, 2014, Kingston University professor Hanif Kureishi surprised many at the ‘Independent Bath Literature Festival’ by calling creative writing courses which he teaches) a “waste of time” and saying that “99.9 %” of his creative writing students are “not talented.”
But people have been saying this for years. Most creative writing courses make money by teaching people to write sentences, not stories. And while it’s possible for people with a BA in Creative Writing to learn something valuable, most of what they learn should have been covered in a decent High School English class.
Here’s what you need to know about writing: its part craft and part instinct.
Craft can be taught, instinct cannot.
Consider Stephen King’s thoughts on the subject:
“You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”
-Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
If you want to be a good writer, you need to read a lot of books. Good books, bad books, books that are in your genre and books that you just stumble across while wandering the library. I’ve picked up books and read them solely because I liked their cover (I guess you can judge a book by that), or because they happen to be eye level on the shelf (also how I pick out my breakfast cereal).
Kureishi’s comments are only notable because they come from someone who’s in the inner circle of this academic writing scheme, and his livelihood depends on being about to convince young writers that he can somehow teach them to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.
But so much of writing is not teachable. Or if it is, it’s impossible to learn in a classroom. Once you know the basics, you know about as much as anyone else. Save your money or get a degree in Criminal Justice instead. That’ll be a lot more helpful when you’re trying to write that string of detective novels.