Sunday, January 22, 2006

Coming to Terms

The Silverfish litmag both online and in its printed form (pickupable from the the shop) is growing ever more substantial and interesting, and the website is now much less clunky. Not bad for a publication that's effectively a one-man show, (though one of my reviews is in there, and a good short story by Robert Raymer).

Raman has also slipped in a couple of eloquent sound-off pieces. He takes issue with the term "creative writing" and talks about how creative writing courses are invariably rip-offs creating unreal expectations for those who just want easy fixes, while the charlatans who teach such course just run away with the money, I suppose.

The article by Sam Sacks that Raman refers to is well worth a read. It highlights the dangers of formulaic teaching of creative writing "rules", resulting in a homogeneity of style which can undoubtedly be seen in much recent American writing. (Golden's Memoir's of a Geisha is wonderfully formulaic, for example, and he was a product of such a course.)

The UEA course on the other hand has continued to turn out distinctive writers, Rattawat Lapcharoensap, Tash Aw, Diana Evans, Tracy Chevalier, Andrew Miller, and Toby Litt. My favourite new writer of last year, Marina Lewycka did the creative writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University. (Not Union Jack-waving here but.)

As Tash said on that occasion at Silverfish :
No-one's ever going to teach you how to write. The (UEA) course makes you look at your own work and develop critical skills very quickly.
And that really is the heart of the matter. Rule bound formulaic teaching vs. providing the opportunity for writers to discover what works for them, and what doesn't, in a relatively unstressful environment.

There are courses and there are courses, then. Teachers worth their salt need to constantly reevalaute their methodology and ask themself the toughest of questions - what kind of writers are we producing? The UEA course is clearly doing something right: the Iowa Writers workshop perhaps not.

I could argue much further but won't. Raman's piece is well worth a read, and you might also like to look at some of my previous posts about creative writing courses.

Raman's other rant is against the term post-colonial literature. And here, I agree with him entirely. I guess it's just that those who spend time in the academic pursuit of Literature (with a big L) need lots of funny expressions that make the rest us mere readers feel like ignorant yoiks.

9 comments:

amir said...

Hullo, just dropped in to say hi.

Post-colonial literature smells like buttered toast and a half-boiled egg in soy sauce.

Amir

Anonymous said...

Tea (Lipton's) and men in white kaki and topis :)

Walker said...

I vaguely recall an author's essay on the UEA course (possibly Julian Barnes) and his surprise at being left to his own [writing] devices much of the time. IMO some creative writing courses are quite good because they focus on elements of form and structure easily overlooked unless you have a degree in English literature. Others, as you sort-of indicate, seem to exist purely to rip-off the dreaming minions. Everyone seems to think they have a story to be told and their aspirations of authordom are easily milked by parasites.

My ambition is to never be published, ever. People who read my blog reassure me that I never will. ;)

bibliobibuli said...

Had forgotten that Barnes is another UEA graduate ... I guess that being left to your own devices much of the time is also a hallmark of a Masters course. (I did one but in something peculiar called ESP ... which has to do with teaching english for science, commerce etc. etc.)

Yep, there is a need for courses which focus on form and structure - not in terms of giving you easy formulae but intermso exposing you to the possibilities. I was chatting to Romesh Gunasekera the other day (shamless name dropper I am) and he said very wisely that what's needed are not so much creative writing courses as creative reading courses. Quite true!

I did some little writing courses on the internet and found them tremendously helpful - hadn't realised for example that my point of view was all over the place ...

And Walker - your blog is lovely and a pleasure to look at. I'm fed up of looking at my boring pages ...

bibliobibuli said...

amir& anon - best defintions of postcolonial i've come across.

Walker said...

I've taken two Gotham Writers' Workshop courses over the past year, one on fiction writing in general, the other on short stories. Both courses focused more on reading and analysis than instructing formulae...so I suppose they are better defined "creative reading" than writing workshops. (I'd not really considered it until you posted this entry.)

Heh, thanks for the compliment. And your pages are boring? That's news to me. I've always loved the blogger theme you use, and I aspire to post as frequently as you. It's what keeps me returning!

Anonymous said...

Hey, weren't you having a go at Raman when he wasn't publishing your stuff ? :)

bibliobibuli said...

walker - i've not heard about the Gotham courses and must check them out ...

i love your soviet theme - wish i could make this blog a bit more eyepleasing ... though i do like the colours of the present theme ... i want a nice bookish banner across the top ...

anon - yeps, was grousing that he wouldn't print my review (which i gave him for free) even though it was of my fave book of 2005 ... but never mind ... it's all his baby

Gabby said...

Haha! Another one man show for Raman! Everything he does is a one-man show.