Thursday, August 12, 2010

What’s the use of a creative writing course?

People write. If they’re good enough, they get published. Then they write more and get more things published. Then they earn lots of money. All this happens smoothly and words flow in a constant stream of inspiration.

Pah! If only the business of writing were that simple!

Human beings are a complicated lot and writers themselves are a scruffy, jumbled bag. They write very different things and in very different ways. One thing holds true though, whether you wop words out on the page quicker than a laser-jet printer, or mull over your masterpiece for decades; it’s a long, tough road and you will probably write alone. You may get lonely and self-doubt could well tag along for the ride.

Creative writing courses are a great way to shake off pesky cling-ons of uncertainty and isolation that can be so severe as to make some writers give up completely. The chance to sit in amongst like-minded people who love to shuffle words around and tell stories, coming with their own ideas and angles, can be an invigorating experience not just for a complete beginner, but just as much for a writer who’s been battling along alone for a good while. And a writer at absolutely any stage can meet an inspirational writer or teacher who highlights something about their writing that they could not themselves see.

Want some hard proof of the brilliant revitalising power a writing course can have? No problem…

Poet Jane Clarke took part in a poetry course at the IWC back in 2007 led by Catherine Phil MacCarthy. She sowed the seeds of a poem there, The Lighthouse Keeper, drawing on Catherine’s encouragement to explore persona and to absorb herself completely in someone else’s life

Jane finished the course and abandoned the poem, thinking it was not really working and that she would return to it later. It didn’t happen. That is until, three years later, Jane found herself in another poetry course at the Centre, this time led by Paula Meehan, whose focus was very different; breath, rhythm and line. Inspired once more, Jane rustled through her papers at home, pulled out that poem and reworked it from a new angle. She then submitted it to an international poetry competition, the iYeats Poetry Contest, and won first prize.

Jane, a member of the Airfield Writers’ Group, has been writing for a long time and has had many poems published, but she has no doubt that putting yourself into different, creative experiences can take you in exciting writing directions. So as well as a chance to learn new things, a creative writing course could be just as useful in giving you an external stimulus; to put it another way, a blooming good kick up the typewriter!

Congratulations to Jane on her win and we look forward to seeing more of her work published in the future.


  1. I agree, it's like Socrates being known as the midwife for ideas, provocatively tormenting people with the question 'why', and 'why' again. The inner exploration of writing is usually a one-man team, but there's also a sociable side. Just as there's a sociable side to each person, there's a sociable side to his writing, or his writing life, though it may be more fraught and awkward - a more pitfallen way. But even monks have their outlets - if they didn't chant together, I'm sure they'd kill each other. And that harmonious chanting they're famous for, that is a sweetly interwoven brotherhood which can hold its head up high as among the best achievements of human society.

    Mixing with like-minded people on the same path as yourself doesn't make you a writer - it doesn't give you a vocation - I doubt it improves your writing. Like the post says, it gives a boot up the typewriter. It won't allow you to take flight: no, it won't let you take wing, but on occasion, it might let you glide a very little longer, which directs the flight and gives a moment's more precious glimpse of the landscape. Let's you jot down an extra note or two.

    Like anything, too much of it will harm, a little won't hinder. The worst you can do is make friends and keep a sensible perspective on yourself. Modest returns to modest expectations.

  2. What you describe here is exactly what happened to me. I had written a lot of poetry and when it was read by an older established poet, he gave me some advice about my writing. Though I was not able to follow through on it at the time, because the inspiration just wouldn't come to me. However some time later it did just all flood and my writing was transformed.