I'm covered in flour - it would take too long to explain...

Monday, 29 April 2013

Can you teach genius?

I wandered in on the end of a radio four discussion on the niggly 'you and yours' program, which is known by many names in our house, namely 'you and bloody yours,' or 'tough tits, you bought it.'
The moan today, which was definitely in the 'you're a big boy now so it's up to you' category, was the launch of a novel writing course/school run by/connected to Faber and Faber, the detail of which I am hazy about as I only came in on the end. The premise of the pedantic witterings of the program seemed to be that you can't teach people how to write a good novel, so offering courses one has to pay for is a waste of time/money and a false promise, as you can take the course and still be unable to write a novel.
Leaving aside the issue that presumably we are all grown ups, and if we want to spend our money on a course it's up to us - after all, how many people take a water colour course just because they like it without any hope of winning the Turner prize - out came again the off repeated mantra that you can't teach writing, you can either do it or not.


As the poor man from Faber and Faber said, who must have felt rather grim sitting in the chair usually reserved for cowboy builders and fraudulent share dealers, why is it that we're quite happy to accept the teaching of music but not the teaching of writing? In my mind it's linked to the myth that writers don't plan, and some how the best writers just sit there and let the muse flow through them without knowing where the story will take them - which is rubbish.
First of all, yes, you can learn how to improve your writing, and you should. If you think you don't need to learn technique, you are arrogant and you'll learn the hard way that these things won't hold back your creativity but give you the tools to properly express yourself. Master the basics, then you can let rip without the obvious tripping you up.

 Second of all, no one writes anything worthwhile in a vacuum, and a creative writing course is a great way to meet people who will give you feedback on your work without an agenda. You'll also learn more from them than they know they are teaching you, if you've any sense.

 And finally, no, you can't teach genius, but you sure as hell can teach how to write a better book, and not every book that sells is a work of genius. Some of them are just a damn good read, and there will always be people who want a damn good read, and to write a damn good read you need to be damn good.

Our culture seems to celebrate the over night success, as if that by it's self is a mark of quality. Let's not, let's celebrate the long hard slog of it, because actually, nothing in life worthwhile is easy and nothing in life achieved without hard work, and frankly, that's good.
As for courses, look around, ask around and find one you like the sound of and put the work in. If you've not got the money, find some on-line groups and put the work in there, the key to it all is to work.

1 comment:

  1. Hear hear! I couldn't agree more. As a writer, I am always learning how to be better and classes give you an opportunity to feed off other people's creativity too. I love going to creative writing workshops, events and courses both online and off. I don't think that will ever change.