Can Great Writers Be Taught?
After almost a decade of teaching creative writing, the only professional writer to come out of my class . . . was me.
A 2009 New Yorker piece written by Louis Menand (“Show or Tell: Should creative writing be taught?”) has a cynical and comical view of creative writing programs.
“Creative writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.”
It’s a good read for anyone who wants to teach writing or anyone who wants to dump money into a writing program. However, at times, Menand offers a limited view of how creative writing classes operate, in order to prove his point — until eventually coming around to defend a rather flimsy reason for such programs, i.e. “I don’t think the workshops taught me too much about craft, but they did teach me about the importance of making things, not just reading things. You care about things that you make, and that makes it easier to care about things that other people make.”
Several questions are raised. For instance, do writing programs actually make writers great or are they simply attended by great writers? To my knowledge, after almost a decade of teaching creative writing, the only professional writer to come out of my class . . . was me. Hardly a prestigious alumnus. But then, the other question: is the point of a creative writing program really to produce professionals? Is it publish-or-perish?
My class made good writers better. The great writers didn’t need me; they’d figure it out on their own. And as for the terrible writers, if I made them slightly more conscious of the clutter in their work, I’d take that as a win. In my class, we…