The Importance of Creative Writing Courses

Ten reasons why emerging writers should consider a course in creative writing:

·       Learn the rules of writing, so you know how effectively break them. Though your unique voice and inspiration will be an essential part of your writing practice, there is no ignoring that writing is a craft, not unlike carpentry or metalwork. You wouldn’t be able to build a table or staircase purely on innate talent without learning how to use a measuring tape. The same goes for writing. You may well have a natural gift; you may even learn the ‘rules’ of writing, only to bend or break them. But make no mistake about it. Your writing will be better for learning the rules in the first place.

·       You need to know something about the market you are writing into. After undertaking an introductory creative writing course, perhaps try doing a fiction course specialised in your area. For example, there is no point in saying you want to be a crime writer because you love Agatha Christie. Crime writing has moved on substantially since that time, and you will need to know what sort of crime books are now being commissioned. Otherwise, you may write a book that no one wants to publish. Find a crime-writing course facilitated by a crime writer. The same goes for children’s writing, or romance, or short story writing, etc.

·       A good course will save you years. You may well figure out the ‘rules’ of writing on your own. However, it will be through time-consuming trial and error. Having an expert guide you through the essentials can save you YEARS of stumbling around ‘in the dark’.

·       It teaches you how to read like a writer. As anyone who has completed a substantial course in creative writing, the way you read will be changed forever. You notice the construction of a story and what you might incorporate into your own practice. You also start to see what isn’t working!

·       Do NOT fall for the hype of the genius born fully formed. It is a craft like everything else. You can get better at it. Most great writers are the result of dedication to their craft. Malcolm Gladwell theorised it takes ten thousand hours to become good at any skill. Writing is no exception.

·       It can give you focus, direction and deadlines. Some writers, especially those from a journalistic background, often need a ‘deadline’ to stay focused on their work. If you do a Masters in Creative Writing (in particular), the deadlines each week for seminars and tutorials will mean you likely have the most productive year of your life as a writer.

·       It will weed out bad fiction-writing habits you learned in school. In school, you are taught essay writing, where you write point-to-point. You must unlearn this to write good fiction, where you move from scene to scene. Mostly, fiction begins to fail because the writer has slipped into writing in an essay style.  

·       Often your teachers will help you in years to come. Often writers who teach the courses, if they like your work, will do what they can to help you in your career, be it through endorsements or even recommending your work to an agent/editor.

·       These are (or should be!) safe spaces to have your work critiqued. A good creative writing teacher should make the course a place where your work is discussed constructively. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experiment and figure out how and what you want to write.

And the biggest benefit of all!

·       You will meet your writing ‘tribe’. It is often on creative writing courses that you find like-minded people who become your best allies as you move closer to publication. I advise creating a writing group that you meet monthly (even on Zoom) and discuss each other’s work. It saves you having to ask your family/friends to read your work yet again.  

There are many great courses to try out, be it an evening course in your local library/community center right the way through to a masters course in a university. I have my own online program https://www.blackwaterwriting.com/advanced-creative-writing-coursefor those who’ve completed an introductory course.

Undoubtedly, if you do your research and find a great creative writing course, it can greatly benefit you as you pursue your dream of publication.

My best wishes.

Jamie O’Connell

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