So the media – OK, maybe just The Guardian’s Comment is Free – has been losing its mind over the comments of Hanif Kureishi. What exactly did Mr Kureishi say that is just so damn outrageous? Kureishi teaches a creative writing course at uni, and he has sent shockwaves through the Guardian-reading community (which, let’s face it, is very easy to outrage) by stating that creative writing courses aren’t really all that.
Never having taken one myself, I can’t make a fair comment, but if I’m totally honest, he has a point.
I’m not agreeing with his statement that creative writing courses are a waste of time. Not at all. My one true love in life is writing, and ever since I was a little four-year old sitting at the writing corner in nursery writing reams and reams of stories, I have wanted to write for a living. That dream has never died and probably never will, and I know I’m hardly unique in my lust for language. When I was younger, I always assumed I’d ‘study’ creative writing at university, until I realised I didn’t want anyone telling me how I should or shouldn’t write and I ditched the idea.
I don’t like the idea that one person (the lecturer) is imposing their preferences upon an entire group of aspiring writers. Just because that one ‘expert’ doesn’t like the way you write, it doesn’t mean anything. When you think about the mind-blowing range of writing found in the most successful books, it beggars belief that any one person should be able to hold that much power over someone else’s creative expression. It is far too subjective, and there are lots of very popular authors whose writing I just don’t like, and many underrated ones whose writing holds something so much more exciting for me.
Another issue I have is that the artificial academic environment of university differs greatly from ‘real life’. I believe that studying creative writing as a discipline would have sucked all the joy out of it for me. ‘I have to finish this bloody story by Friday, ugh’… ‘I got a terrible mark for my last assignment, ugh, I must be a bad writer’… for me, the joy is the spontaneity and the rush of words at all hours of the day and creating something that might not appeal to anyone or fit into an academia-friendly structure. I love the freedom and playing with language and I don’t believe I would have ever found that in a formal environment. If you’re a great writer, you’re still a great writer if you flunk your course, and equally, just because you pass with flying colours, it doesn’t mean you’ll sell books.
I must make it absolutely clear that I have nothing at all against creative writing courses and I wish anyone who wants to progress their career in that way the best of luck. Not all writing courses are made equal, and some are far more specialised and will offer much more tailored advice. Writing for children or writing historical fiction is very different to ‘creative writing’ in general, and it may be the case that these will offer the targeted advice that these future authors need to help them understand these styles.
I have no idea if I’ll ever make it big as a writer, and I may find in 20 years that what I really needed was a push from a creative writing course. But for now, I know it’s not right for me or the writing I want to do and I’m going to try seriously hard to do it my way first. I’m going to do it without formal training because I love the idea of writing something truly original and unrefined and strange, even if that’s not the writing that one lecturer enjoys.
I know I have a lot of writing fanatics who read this blog, and I know that some of you have taken creative writing courses. Whether or not you’ve studied writing formally, do you agree with Hanif Kureishi?