By Russel D McLean
This week, with thanks to the wondrous Scottish novelist, Kirsten McKenzie, I attended a writing class as a “visiting speaker” or some such thing. Basically I went in and answered a lot of questions. It was informal. And it was fun. Lots of great questions.
But one in particular stuck with me above all the rest.
“Are classes like this worthwhile if you want to write?”
I admit I was stymied by the question. Because I couldn’t say yes considering I’d never attended a writing class, never been part of a writer’s circle (at least for long) and had never really advised anyone to do so. And yet I couldn’t condemn courses because, here I was, talking to one, trying to help these people.
In the end I think that the question is perhaps a moot one. Writing classes are perhaps only useful if you find them useful. They cannot make you a writer. But nothing in the world can except for luck, perseverance and a tiny amount of natural ability. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t do everything you can to make learn the craft.
For some people, like me, that’s all about immersing yourself in literature, in learning through doing, in making mistakes on your own terms. If you’re like me – that is, if you’re a grouchy hermit-type – then a writing probably isn’t for you.
But if you need structure, routine and support, then I think writing classes can be incredibly useful and productive environments. And sometimes they can even help you if you’re on your way in the craft, too. One writer I know is doing a course simply so they can teach and has been discovering all kinds of truths they had never been able to get to before simply through the rigours of the learning process. That’s great, and it’s done a huge amount for them.
But it’s one individual case.
I think I said it to the class multiple times, but the truth is that when it comes to writing and publishing – hell, just about any art form – nobody knows anything. Or, to put it in the words of one of the 20th Centuries greatest unknown poets*
What might be right for you might not be right for some
It sounds like a cop out of an answer of course. And maybe it is. But the fact is that writing is a very strange business to be in. And especially fiction writing. There is no one tried and true route to success. Everyone’s experience varies wildly.
And that’s part of the joy of writing and the reason I love it. Every writer I meet has their own take on the business, their own utterly unique war stories that couldn’t have happened to anyone else. They all come from different backgrounds. And I think the only thing I could to back up my non-answer to the question is this.
Ask each of them whether a writing course is worth while.
And see the number of different, conflicting and plain crazy making answers that come flooding back.
*The dude who wrote the Diff’rent Strokes theme