Creative writing courses – what are they all about?

University creative writing course

By Lois Looker,

Creative writing courses are relatively new concepts which have developed in universities over the past ten years or so. As they have built success and a reputation for being on an academic level, something that many people still scoff at, they have now become a popular choice and have helped to develop writing skills within universities which might not have been encouraged before.

I have now completed two creative writing courses; one at my university and one at an external course at the London School of Journalism and I feel that it has helped my writing confidence; even if only to have other people read my work and receive critical feedback on it to then help further develop it and I am now writing a creative writing dissertation for my final semester at university.

Creative writing has always been something I have been interested in and something that I have always done, so the thought of going to a class where I would learn about it more was exciting, although I did have the same reservations about them that other people may have, too. Many people believe that creative writing is a craft and so therefore not necessarily something you can fully learn. It’s about your abilities and whether there’s something there to craft in the first place. Whether that is true or not or what you believe, I have worked with people in these classes who have written books and some who have never even thought about creative writing and each person’s work is considered with the same respect. In some cases the person who has never written in their lives can completely outshine the work of those who are sitting with a finished novel and so those who want to have a go at it should never feel intimidated or like they’ll just not be good enough.

Creative writing is like art; there’s skill and there’s taste. What you might find to be a brilliant piece of writing might not be to someone else’s taste and so you cannot judge your own writing against other people’s.

External courses

When I did my course at the London School of Journalism, we did a lot of work by looking at other writer’s work and techniques and were given homework to do in our own time as well as working in groups in the class. This gave us all time to share ideas as well as work on our own theories and concepts. I found the classes intensive but good because you were working with people that you had never met before but could build a network amongst yourselves to support one another and read each other’s work once the classes were done.

Although I enjoyed the teaching and really got something from it, I found sometimes that as the only student and one of the youngest people in the class, it was sometimes difficult to relate to the people around me who were looking at this class as a way of taking their writing into publishing, whereas I was simply looking to improve my own techniques. I think that this is the main downfall of a paid class and although I would recommend the class. I would firstly recommend finding a writing group in your local area. Many libraries host creative writing evenings where people go along, share their work and receive feedback. This can be very effective and it can really help to read other people’s work and they are often free if not quite cheap.

University courses

The creative writing classes at my university have been great as I’ve been surrounded by people in the same situation as myself and although we started off very nervously passing around our work, we built a strong group where we felt comfortable about sharing with the knowledge that our work and ideas would not leave that room. There is also a creative writing society where people come together with work they have done and share but also, the society is a key place for helping to get your work out there as they look for publishing opportunities for poetry or short stories.

Knowing a lot of people who are interested in creative writing but not sure how to get into it, I’d say that the key pieces of advice are to write and write and write. You can never write enough and by doing more, it’ll help to establish your own voice. Secondly, surround yourself with other people who are interested in writing and share your work with them and give each other feedback. Lastly, study other writers. Don’t just read for fun but challenge yourself by reading books that you would never do so before. I hate all things horror, but when I took a gothic module at university, I discovered some of my now favourite books which I would never have chosen if left to decide myself.

Just never think you’re not good enough or well enough developed as a writer to attend any of these classes, and you’ll probably surprise yourself.

Have you ever attended a creative writing course – what was your experience?