I’m currently studying for a degree with the Open University, and over the last two years I’ve worked my way through the Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing modules.
With both courses, we had a dedicated forum for sharing and critiquing our work. Tutors warned that students who didn’t use the forums tended to get lower marks. Despite that, few people took advantage of the opportunity to have their work critiqued—or to offer their thoughts to other students. There were many reasons for this, including fear of allowing people to read their writing, fear of giving someone else the wrong advice, and of course lack of time. Interestingly, most people seemed to interpret the tutors’ warning as a threat—‘If you don’t put in an appearance, you’ll be marked down’—rather than recognising the correlation between feedback and improving our work.
I started the Advanced course with a tutor who was completely wrong for me—or perhaps I was completely wrong for her. Either way, it was a disastrous fit. When it reached the point where I was ready to throw away my chances of a degree and leave the course, common sense prevailed and I requested a change of tutor, which the OU granted. My new tutor was a much better fit, and I began to enjoy the course.
Having just sent off my final assignment for the advanced course, and with two months to wait for the results, I’ve been reflecting on the value of writing courses.
Would I recommend writing courses? There are many articles on the web that proclaim ‘you can’t teach creativity!’ This is probably true, but courses can teach the basic skills—grammar, punctuation, writing techniques—and by extension offer an environment where innate creativity can grow.
We don’t expect artists to know instinctively how to paint like Rembrandt. Nor do we expect wood turners to produce magnificently carved and polished tables or cabinets without many years as an apprentice, learning and developing the craft. So why do we think writing is any different?
As an editor, I see many manuscripts that clearly demonstrate the author’s creativity—there’s a great story in there—but they’re let down by the mechanics. That’s where courses can play a part.
Few students will reach the lofty heights of J K Rowling, but there’s nothing wrong with being a solid, dependable writer whose books sell steadily, if in more modest quantities.
So yes, I think there’s value in writing courses if they’re done professionally and with professional (and experienced) tutors.
Adrianne Fitzpatrick has around 25 years’ experience in the publishing industry as a writer (for adults and children), editor, teacher (of writing and editing), photographer, book designer and bookseller (both new and secondhand books). She has had numerous short stories and articles published; and her first novel, Champion of the Chalet School, was published by Girls Gone By Publishers in 2014. Adrianne has worked with many authors to see their dreams of publication come true, so it’s not surprising that she has started her own publishing house, Books to Treasure, specialising in books for children.