First, we pick up the pen and write. In so doing, we fulfil a life-long desire. For some, it takes that long to decide finally to write that first book, for others, we start scribbling our epic tome just out of the cradle. But somewhere along the line we wonder, “Are we doing this right?” That is usually when we think that it is time to learn to fly.
Some people cannot even begin until they have been to school and learned the correct way through a creative writing course. Some take the course because they have a stirring in their soul and feel that somehow, within the next few weeks, they are going to be transformed into authors. Others take the course because they need to fill their curriculum and think this is an easy ‘A’.
However, writing courses are none of these things. A creative writing course does not teach you how to be creative. Unfortunately, most people learn through the course that you must bring your creativity with you. What most writing courses do teach is organization and the fundamentals of good structure. In other words, they do not teach you how to think, they teach you how to put your thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. They teach you to arrange your ideas logically so that others can understand.
We begin learning these techniques around the third grade in what used to be called English Composition. We were taught the correct formats for writing letters, personal and business, prose, narratives, and poems of various styles. And for some, that was all it took to ignite the fire that would lead to a lifelong obsession with the written word. In the words of the song, “Can’t keep my eyes from the circling sky”. We took flights of fancy.
Those simple lessons got twisted and turned inside out as our ideas became grander and more complicated. The three basic steps of a beginning, middle, and an end or an introduction, explanation, and a conclusion became unattainable. So we trotted off to writing classes to rekindle those mystic powers we had so long ago. You might detect a sarcastic tone here and think, “This guy thinks he is too good to be taught anything!”
Quite the opposite, if there is any sarcasm in my words, it is because many people try to tout writing courses as more than what they are, a refresher on the basic and mechanics of good writing. I have taken several writing courses over the years, and have toyed with the idea of teaching a course myself. I have also taken a course in journalism, which helped me immensely organizing facts in an order that brings my point out vividly and clearly. I have even taken poetry classes to learn the phonetics of words and the flow of language. And I have been through short story lessons to develop the art of putting down my ideas in a succinct yet rich narrative.
Writing courses are good for every writer. They can teach you plot development, characterization, and thematic presentation, but they cannot make you a writer, that, you must bring into the class. Unlike Learning To Fly, they are not the finale of your career as an author either. Use them as a tool, a building block or whetting stone to sharpen your skills.
I have sat beside many students; from the third grade onwards, who when the teacher put a topic on the board and said, “Write 500 words about this,” saw the color drain from their faces, knowing they were going to get an ‘F’. Just to be clear, if you say, “I don’t know what to write,” a creative writing course cannot help you either.