Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is the UK Still Down on Teaching Writing?

Here's a piece in The Guardian. The old worn-out debate on whether or not you can teach creative writing is the topic thrown at the UK. Visit the comment boxes -- well written responses that strike me as so very sad. This ran on May 9th of THIS YEAR.

Electricians can have mentors, can take classes, can have a master electrician's ear, can study, can have guided practice ... but not writers? They have to do it alone? And the master electrician can be paid to train younger electricians -- as well as master theologians, philosophers, lawyers, podiatrists, large-animal veterinarians... -- but if writers become part of the system of higher education -- creating those mentoring relationships -- we're taking advantage of wannabes and the university is just trying to make a buck?

This strikes me as so sad. The comments are so outdated. The arguments are those old ones -- feeble and bound up in so many ideas of what writers are like, the mythology, instead of the basics.

I remember the first time I heard MFA programs existed. I wanted to write. I wanted to talk to other writers about writing, writers, books. I wanted to know how lit mags worked. I wanted to go to readings. I wanted to have mentors, guides ... A place existed for me to do just this. I was going. Is that so baffling?

And did all of the people in my MFA program become writers? No. But many, many have published books and most have gone into some kind of writerly profession -- editor of magazines and books, ghost writer, communication director, teacher of writer/literature, one started her own press and acts as publisher...

Also, as a more experienced writer and poet now, if I didn't have an outlet to hand down some of the hard-won things I've learned as a writer, I'd feel so much less useful in the world. A young novelist can ask me about three options of narration they're thinking about, and in ten minutes I can explain the upsides and downsides of each of their options -- the challenges, the risks, the rewards. I've been down the roads they're heading down. I'm reporting the conditions. They can choose.

Writers teaching in their homelands, growing young writers helps create a sense of time, place, history in a geography. Writers becoming mentors, writers reaching out to the younger generations...why are these bad things?

A bad mentor of writing is bad. A bad mentor of the art of being an electrician is bad. But a great writing mentor? Why not facilitate those relationships?

I don't understand the deep territorial ire around the subject of can writing be taught. Is it that we want to elevate our writers as having been kissed on the brain by God? Is it that we want to cling to the myth of inspiration? Is it that we want to find a way around the truth that writers learn their craft like everyone else -- by asking questions, finding answers, practicing. In other words, they work.