Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Writing for Writing's Sake

A few years ago I was on a walk with an artist friend who stopped to sketch the view. I sat down too, but instead of writing, I decided to draw the view too. I hadn’t done any drawing since school, but I really enjoyed myself and it was a pretty fine sketch, though I say it myself. My artist friend was very polite, made a few kind comments about the charmingly na├»ve perspective and interesting use of shading and offered some suggestions which, should I ever sketch a view again, I fully intend to use. It was a good day.

It never occurred to me that success as an artist was determined by my ability to sell my work in the market place. Success was about my enjoyment in the process, and satisfaction with the end result, however much the perspective was all over the place. So when people ask me, as a creative writing teacher and novelist, if I think you can teach someone to write, I never know what to say. What are they really asking? Can you teach someone craft techniques so their skill improves? Yes. Can you stretch and challenge their abilities in an enjoyable way? Definitely. Can you make them a published author? No – you can only give them some tools to help them along the way.

I don't think using market place success is the right way to judge creative writing teaching. What makes a published writer is a big combination of elements - determination, persistence, talent, luck, skill, hard work, imagination... You can't teach "it" but no one knows what "it" is. What you can do is give a leg up to the talented, improve the untalented and generally develop skills and have a lot of fun doing it. I'm thrilled to bits when one of my students gets a book published or wins a short story competition but ultimately publication isn't what I'm teaching. For myself, I wanted to be published, as an endorsement of what I was doing, but going to creative writing classes was always about the enjoyment of the process. It still is.

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