Writers' Resources 

Do I Teach Creative Writing?

Easy question, easy answer: Sure I do. The harder question is: Can I teach creative writing? Can creative writing be taught?

I hear the question often. Prospective students—new writers, but also seasoned pros—ask me. I even ask myself in the middle of the night. Can I teach creative writing?

Well, I do have some favorite rules and tools of structure and style. From a lifetime of editing and publishing, I know that some creative writing works (and plays) better than other writing, and there are consistent, time-honored reasons for why this is. I happen to call those reasons “rules.” Such as? Write what you know (but let your imagination soar). Show ’em, don’t tell ’em. The importance of story, which means the importance of choice, change, and consequence; characters, conflict, and climax. These techniques (and many others) work, and I love to spread the word about them.

We can call that teaching, I suppose, but…

In any class I’ve ever taught, much if not most of the real learning doesn’t happen when I’m talking. That’s why I always save at least half of every class period for constructive read-and-critique.

Magic happens when writers read to one another. Writing is, after all, a means of communication, and the creative act isn’t really complete until the writer reaches an audience with his or her words. That’s why writing groups are so important, why swapping stories with other writers is so fulfilling, why so many writers want to publish their work. An audience is what makes all those solitary hours in front of a computer screen or a blank piece of paper pay off.

But it’s not just the pleasure of sharing your own work and hearing your own voice. It’s a way to develop and improve that “voice,” to hone that writing style that is all your own. By hearing honest, supportive feedback from your peers, you’ll learn what’s wonderful in your voice and your imagination, and also you’ll pick up tips and suggestions on how to make your writing even stronger.

There’s more. You’ll learn the fine and magic art of writing by listening to other writers read their words as well. And you’ll learn from the guided discussion that follows every reading, discussion that always centers on what makes the writing good, and what could make it even better.

And that’s not all. You’ll be entertained royally. Writing is all about people, after all, and people are there to move you with laughter and tears, with stories of grabbing suspense or gentle love. You’ll be an active part of every story that’s discussed, whether you join in the discussion or not. The enthusiasm for the craft of writing is infectious. Get ready, because…

It will be fun. You will be inspired. So will I.

So is that teaching? Frankly, I don’t know. I do know that it’s learning. I know it, because I’ve learned something—a lot, in fact—from every creative writing class I’ve ever taught.

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