Friday, 11 January 2013

Less voodoo, more rocket science

Thanks to a tweet by Joanna Rossiter, I've just seen this (rather dated) piece in The Spectator, by established novelist Allan Massie, and feel the time has come to start venting spleen in this-'ere blog.

Like many others, Mr Massie pours scorn on the idea that creative writing is something that can or should be taught. I don't agree with him.

Just to be clear: I'm not defending my OU diploma. (At least, not in the way the secretly dismayed owner of an overpriced-but-sexy computer or mobile phone will defend their purchase with increasingly evangelical fervour rather than admit they pissed their money away on tat that doesn't work properly.) For the umpteenth time, I'll go on the record and say The Open University's creative writing courses were lacking. (Particularly A363, the "Advanced" one. In the case of A363, "lacking" is standing in for "shite"!) The peer contact and support, together with (postcode lottery permitting) tutor encouragement was great - almost worth the course fees on their own if I'm honest. But the actual courses (sorry, "modules"!) compare very poorly with the books on my list of Recommended Creative Writing Books, which can be bought in its entirety for £120 (about a third of the cost of each OU course when I did them; not even a tenth of their current prices). If you're prepared to even entertain the idea that I may be right making this comparison, then, with careful shopping, you could probably get the entire list for well under £50 - well worth a flutter? I have digressed a bit, but hope I've convinced you that I'm no university fanboy.

Whether or not creative writing can be taught, it's undeniable that it can be appraised. Subjective though the process may be, it wouldn't be too difficult to find a body of opinion holding that, say, Jane Austen's handling of character motivation is pretty bloody nifty. (Or that reading Dr Seuss is more fun than reading Miss Austen.) Bear with me - I am going somewhere with this, honest! Whether the literary merits of my own own writing are closer to Pride and Prejudice, The Cat in the Hat, or a note Tommy Robinson left out for his milkman, everyone who's read it, friends and strangers, siblings and spouse, would tell you it's better now than it used to be. And here's the thing: It's not down to some slippery concept like "experience"; I've lived a shamefully sheltered life in many ways (especially in terms of relationships) and did BUGGER ALL writing between the utter crap I wrote before my twenty-year textbook orgy and the crap I write now. Go figure!

For me, even hallowed stuff like "inspiration" turned out to be something that could be achieved (though not, I hasten to add, with ease) by dint of adopting the right attitude and techniques. Hell, many established authors admit as much! Douglas Adams modestly attributed his greatest success to a flash of inspiration but was quick to point out that it was a one-off. Ideas don't usually come to you while you're lying in a field, he said, "you just have to sit there and think of the little bastards."

It's understandable that some who (think they) are "naturally" good at writing should wish their craft to be unteachable. They never come up with any reason that any aspect of their arcane vocation is beyond the reach of mortals - unless you count an "It just is!" stance as reason. They hate the idea that the pedestal upon which they sit might have room for more. That is all.

1 comment:

  1. its true insperation is'nt a gift from the gods. jack london said YOU CA'NT WAIT FOR INSPERATION YOUV'E GOT TO GO AFTER IT WITH A CLUB!