Lately every time I sign in to my LinkedIn account I am confronted with the following advertisement: “Get a masters degree in creative writing within one year. Register for our online courses.” The internet, newspapers and magazines are full of such advertisements. There are hundreds of writing courses taught by hundreds of teachers and professors in hundreds of colleges around the world at any given time of the year. And yet it is my understanding that creative writing cannot be taught.
Creative writing is fiction, literature, invented story, imaginary tale, narrative, novel, short story.
I believe that the art of writing can be taught, as in technique, and grammar, but writing as an art cannot be taught. Because writing as an art is the unique accomplishment, the sole achievement of an artist. The artist is a unique individual. His problems, his thoughts, his ideas are unique and different and as such his creations are unlike any other artist’s. As Archibald Macleish said:
“If anyone had tried to solve D.H. Lawrence’s writing problems by teaching him Flaubert’s solutions there would have been a suicide in the family attic, or more likely a murder in the local school.”
As I also believe that there is no such thing as best writing. There are simply different writers writing their best and whatever method or style works for one could be a failure for the other. I never heard it said that Hemingway, Frost, Cummings, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Simone De Beauvoir or any of the greatest writers got their start in a writing course. In the words of Irving Wallace:
“I have learned less about writing and received less encouragement from English instructors than I have from reading or listening to a working artist relate how a single creation- poem, play, short story, novel- was brought to life and to maturity and to its public place.”
In her book ‘Pen Pals’ (published by the Penguin Group, Dutton in 2002), Olivia Goldsmith uses the same method and style as that of James A. Michener in his book ‘The Novel’ (published by Random House in 1991). The divisions in the novel, the chapters, the use of viewpoint… One would think she has copied Michener. Olivia Goldsmith uses a different character each time she starts a chapter, to narrate the events, in exactly the same way James A. Michener has done it in his novel. Both books are written in the first person, each section having a different narrator. A method that James A. Michener used over a decade ago. As Archibald Macleish said:
“A real writer learns from earlier writers the way a boy learns from an apple orchard- by stealing what he has a taste for and can carry off. He will imitate his elders as every good writer has since the world began- even an original, even a Rimbaud- but the hunger and the pants pocket will be his own.”