I was invited to the pub recently. This is a rare event for me. Normal, no-one bothers. Maybe it’s because I’m boring when out of an evening, or maybe because I’m always writing. I prefer writing. I love writing. Particularly fiction where I can create humans I can actually relate to… Only kidding. Or am I?
So, I was invited to the pub. This was partially a social gathering, but also, or mainly, it was designed to be a meeting of minds and writing talent. Most of the other participants of this soiree had been to a creative writing course, which incidentally I was invited to join. However, my antipathy towards creative writing courses is matched by such illustrious literati as Jeanette Winterson – now a professor of creative writing at Manchester University – and my opinion is, if I’m not going to write, then I’d rather be down the pub.
Creative writing courses to me are like golf. And golf, according to Winston Churchill, is the best way to ruin a good walk. Love walking, especially in the country, as much as I love writing. So, if you’re going to walk, walk. If you’re going to write, write. Why spoil it by going on a course?
Yes, I confess, I have participated in numerous scribe fests in my time but I can’t say I enjoyed any of them. So, why did I join them? I think (1) I wanted some insight into the world of writing that would perhaps fast-track me to publication, and (2) I believed I might just be discovered. Both were tosh and bish ideas, and motivations for attending any course, not least one for writers. Neither was ever going to happen. Over the years I’ve learned there are only three things that will help me on the way to my dream of seeing my name and work in print, and they are: write, re-write, and read.
If you’re not attending a writing course to get a better understanding of character, or composition, or language, or any other finer point of the craft of writing, then it’s a pointless exercise. All the course will succeed in doing is providing you with another avenue for procrastination. And procrastination is almost as central to a writer’s life as, well, writing. We would write profound books on the subject, only we never get round to it. Okay, one does write at a writers’ gathering, a creative writing course, or a poetry workshop. That I’ll concede. To a point. Yes, you write, but you only write a staged exercise. You’re on a course with bunkers, a green, and a fairway. You’re not walking through a forest full of shadow and dappled sunlight, or a meadow filled with the scent of wildflowers, or cresting a hill with a vista over a river delta, or trudging along a tow-path along the side of a water treatment works. You’re not on your own, ploughing your own furrow. This is not the novel you said you’d finish by Christmas.
I’ve learned more by reading than attending creative writing courses: reading classic literature, non-fiction, work published independently and reading my own stuff. But, I think, I learned more from teaching the language I write in. Someone said, the best way to learn a subject is to teach it. Maybe that’s true of creative writing as well. I taught English for six years and learned a great deal about language, form, and structure. Above all, I learned not to hold steadfastly onto anything I create: write, read, and then re-write.
So, anytime I head out into open country, I obstinately avoid those tees and greens and the nineteenth hole. Every journey starts with a small step, and writing is no exception. Always view a blank page as the first stage on a long and exciting walk.
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Photo Credit: Malek Montag, 2015