Writer’s Block: Are creative writing courses a waste of time & money? Comment
With Christie Watson being shortlisted for the 2011 Costa First Novel Award, it would seem that doing a creative writing course is a canny way of breaking into the world of publishing contracts, book awards and literary celebrity status. Christie joins a number of other successful writers, including Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Joe Dunthorne, who, like her, have completed the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. But does a creative writing course really help you to become a celebrated novelist? Or are creative writing courses just a waste of time and money?
Ok, I’m not going to mess around here. I have no intention of weighing up the pros and cons of creative writing courses before reaching a half-hearted conclusion. I’m going to make my point right here, right now and then I’m going to explain myself, alright? Sorry to be so forthright, but I’m in a particularly belligerent mood today.
In my opinion, creative writing courses are a waste of time. I wouldn’t say that they’re a complete waste of time, but the benefits of doing a creative writing course are far outweighed by the fact that these vastly overpriced courses are most definitely not worth the time or money.
Admittedly, I’ve never forked out the cash for a ‘full-on’ creative writing course myself; and therefore you may dismiss my scepticism surrounding the value of creative writing courses as being completely misinformed and unfounded. I have, however, experienced the creative writing course in a microcosmic form. Indeed, in the second year of my English degree, I opted to take creative writing module, taught by the late David Nokes; an admired novelist, scriptwriter and biographer of Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson and Jane Austen.
While my tutor’s expertise could never be doubted, the course left me immensely dissatisfied. In my first creative writing seminar, we were immediately told that everyone would get a 2:1 for the module; nothing more, nothing less. Despite the fact that this was a kick in the teeth for a student who was hungry for a first class honours degree, it was a positive sign that the module would at least be structured around the principle that creative writing is a craft and not an academic discipline.
This glimmer of hope was obliterated quite quickly, as I realised our distinguished tutor intended to use the course as a medium through which to brag about his own achievements. I swear if he’d mentioned his BAFTA-winning adaptation of Clarissa one more time, I would have forced my pencil case into my oesophagus to prevent myself from screaming out a barrage of expletives.
Beyond our tutor’s irksome trips down memory lane, the content of the module was, for want of a better phrase, piss-poor. The entire module seemed to revolve around the issue of crafting a winning plot; and no attention was paid to things such as style, tone, characters, dialogue, description or actually getting published.
What’s more, the man’s bizarre penchant for terrible adjectives made me doubt his critical faculties altogether. At one point, he almost wet his pants with excitement when a girl’s Roman centurion narrator (don’t ask!) described a tree as having “anorexic branches.” At this point, not only did I think about swallowing the pencil case, but I seriously considered regurgitating it onto his shoes as a bizarre, yet potent, form of protest.
Now, I’m sure other creative writing courses are far superior to the module that I took five years ago. I’m certain that students are given an insight into the nuances of structure, narration, character development, plot, dialogue and style. However, even the most well respected courses have inherent problems which cannot be avoided, no matter who teaches the course or how many prize-winning authors have walked the halls.
The common argument against creative writing courses is that creative writing cannot be taught. However, I don’t believe that the tutors who lead these courses even try to teach people. Christie Watson confirmed this herself in a recent interview on BBC Radio 4, “I’m not even sure if UEA and certainly most postgraduate courses claim to teach you to write because that’s not what they’re about.”*
So what’s the point of these so-called ‘courses’ then? Well, it would seem, as well as introducing students to simple writing techniques, that they simply provide a forum for budding authors to meet each other and discuss ideas, which, in turn, gives them the motivation to actually sit down and write. As Christie Watson tells us: “I learnt to read as a writer and to edit my work as well as others’ work. And I think perhaps more importantly than that I was surrounded by people who were as obsessed with writing as I was.”*
Ok, I don’t know about you, but I think spending £5,000 on a course just so you can meet other writers and get a little bit of a kick up the backside to actually start writing is absolutely preposterous.
In fact, I’d argue that messing around at uni, pontificating, chatting and discussing other authors’ work, is a massive distraction from actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing: writing. Writing is a solitary activity, which requires a whole lot of self-discipline and personal endeavour. It’s all about doing research, developing a unique idea and then having the ‘stones’ to sit down in front of a computer and start writing.
If you really need some encouragement and you want to chat to other virginal authors who are yet to pop their first novel cherry, you should try and organise a creative writing group; kind of like a book group, but rather than discussing the books which Richard and Judy think will be the hottest reads this summer, you’ll get the opportunity to share ideas and discuss each other’s work.
Take the £5,000, put it back in the bank and get yourself on the internet. Build up a network of budding authors via literary forums, LinkedIn and Facebook, then meet up and have a chat. Trust me! It’ll be a whole lot cheaper and a lot more satisfying.
Bearing all of this in mind, it would seem that the tutors of creative writing courses are making incredibly easy money. If they don’t teach the students, then what do they actually do? Well, it would appear that they offer critical support and little titbits of advice. The advice they offer, however, could be given by anyone with a GCSE in English literature.
When discussing the benefits of the creative writing MA at UEA, Christie Watson said: “I think the best piece of advice I had while I was there came from one of my favourite teachers who was actually a Royal Literary Fund fellow at the time, and he told me: ‘The most important thing to learn is to write a book that people want to read. And I think that will stay with me always.’”*
Sorry, what? Yep, ok, I understand that I need to write a book that people will read. After all, that’s the point of books and the publishing industry. But do you actually have any useful advice? Nope. Ok…good.
Likewise, Ian McEwan, who also took part in the interview on BBC Radio 4, offers a rose-tinted view of the guidance he received: “I got very little advice, except odd things like superb reading lists. What all young writers need to do is read.”* SLOW HAND CLAP.
Ok, so if their shockingly thin advice is not really worth the money, then what other services do these tutors provide? One thing that instantly springs to mind is that some writers lack confidence in their own ability and thus seek some kind of validation of their writing skills. Craving what they perceive to be an impartial and discerning eye, they enrol on a creative course at a university where they believe they’ll receive the honest criticism they desire.
But who’s to say that a tutor is the right critic for your work? I would argue that writing for a course tutor actually hinders the development your own unique creative voice, and the work you begin to produce will be written for your tutor, rather than for yourself or, more importantly, for a commercial audience. More devastatingly, poor feedback and negative criticism from a course tutor may be the thing that actually puts you off writing altogether.
Arguably, there is also a certain amount of snobbery tied up with creative writing courses, where literary fiction is generally favoured over other genres. Consequently, course tutors may persuade you to avoid your impulse to write commercially-driven work, such as chick-lit or crime novels.
The fact of the matter is that creative writing courses are not worth the money which the institutions are charging. These courses may give you an insight into the writing process; they may teach you a handful of valuable techniques; they may give you a skeleton on which to attach your own ideas; and they may actually give you the impetus to start writing. However, in my opinion, you’d be far better off staying at home, doing research, developing your ideas and actually sitting down and writing.
Creative writing courses are just money-spinning ventures and institutions are cashing in on people’s desire to be the next Booker Prize winner. By dangling lists of impressive literary alumni in front of people’s faces, they are trying their best to demonstrate the quality of the course. But consider this: would these writers have been successful without doing the course? Probably. I’d be confident if we interviewed Ian McEwan or Kazuo Ishiguro that they wouldn't attribute their literary success to the creative writing course they did.
Just think how many successful authors haven’t done a creative writing course; and then think how many unsuccessful authors have done one. The odds of getting published are not going to be increased by wasting your time and money. Successful writers need raw talent and a desire to succeed; two things that a creative writing course can never teach you.
Image courtesy of jvleis, ‘Creative Writing’
Among job-seekers, there's plenty of attention paid to crafting the perfect CV as the end-all, be-all step to landing the perfect position. As any experienced job-seeker can tell you though, that's only the beginning of the process. That's because all your CV really does is get someone to pay attention to you as a viable candidate – and everything you do from that point on matters just as much.
The prospect of self-employment is often coupled with ‘scare stories’ listing an interminable list of hurdles to overcome, detailing just how difficult it will be to succeed. However, if you are thinking about starting your own venture and becoming self-employed, it might be helpful to take an informed look at some of these myths—you’ll find that many of them are either partially or completely untrue. Here we look at how great self employment can be by debunking 5 of the most prevalent myths.
Testing the job market can be a challenging task, no matter what stage of career you happen to be at. That's because regardless of your level of experience, it's difficult to communicate all of your skills and positive attributes to a hiring manager sight unseen. For that reason, your CV could be the most important document you'll ever create in your professional life.
For individuals getting started on the road to a career, finding a job when you don't have much (if any) relevant work experience can be a challenge. It's the kind of catch-22 situation that leads many recent graduates to spend countless hours agonizing over creating the perfect CV by surgically editing every minute detail of their history, searching in vain for the best way to highlight their abilities without overstating or misrepresenting anything. For them, it's a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn't have to be. That's because there is no shortage of myths regarding what makes for the perfect CV, and knowing what they are can take some of the anxiety out of the process, especially for those who haven't gone through it before. To help, here we address four of those myths, and what to do instead when crafting a CV.
As 2019 gets underway, the global accounting industry is at a crossroads. The rise of AI-powered process automation is working its way into corporate finance operations and private accounting practices at an astounding rate, forever changing the nature of the industry and altering the mixture of skilled labour it's going to require going forward. Here in the UK, the Brexit crunch is already worsening skills shortages, which is going to force accounting practices to accelerate plans to adopt process automation in the near future. To do it right, many organisations are going to have to reinvent themselves from the ground up to facilitate digital transformation and operate effectively. Here's what they'll need to focus on.
Teaching is one of the hardest and most satisfying professions ever. You may be a teacher that is having a hard time being loved by all of your students. When your teaching style influences one or two students, you'll become one of the best teachers around. That positive effect may rub off onto their friends who will become influenced by you as well.
It would be nice to work on career goals without worrying about finances, but that's just not realistic for most people
There are three technological innovations that are blindsiding some accountants who earned their degrees years ago. In the future, accounting professionals who are trained in these technologies will have an edge over bookkeepers and accountants who only understand the traditional methods. If you're a bookkeeper or accountant, or an executive or entrepreneur who works with either bookkeepers or accountants, these are the three transformational technologies you need to familiarise yourself with.
Recruitment giant Michael Page took home two business accolades in a week earlier this month as they were revealed as a top employer for both gender equality and for working families.
Earlier this month, Chancellor Philip Hammond took a bold step in announcing the government’s pledge to upskill the UK’s future workforce. In particular, the introduction of T-levels marks a positive step in the right direction in resolving the ever-increasing digital skills gap.
A study of the Forbes List of the World's 100 Most Powerful Women has found that Europe's most powerful business women have an above average number of children, it has been revealed today.
The Chartered Management Institute has today revealed it's overwhelming support for the UK Universities' latest report which stated that over 5,000 new degree apprenticeships would be commencing in September.
A survey of employers has revealed that many feel their young employees lack basic soft skills in the workplace, with inappropriate mobile phone usage ranking as the number one annoyance.
Back in 2013 Universities announced that they would be increasing their fees from £3,000 per year to £9,000 per year for new students, doubling the cost for those looking to further their education. This immediately met controversy as students and prospective students alike took to the streets to protest the rise. The public expressed their worry that universities would go backwards and become, yet again, a place for the elite and upper classes.
The discovery of heat and movement sensors attached to the bottom of desks at a leading British employer has resulted in severe accusations that bosses care more about figures and profits than they do about their relations with their workers, and has set a “new low” in workplace relations.
With a manual labour skills shortage now a real concern in the UK, Kevin Byrne, the founder and CEO of Checkatrade.com gave us his views on the problems in the sector and what can be done about it.
The stereotypical engineering office would be full of MEng degrees and would have a wealth of engineering experience, but there’s a different trend emerging at Max Fordham, who have tried to change the way their employees look at problems to deliver innovative solutions.
Cisco Systems’ Apprentice Network Engineer, James Garnham from Reading, has battled through tough competition to be named this year’s winner of the annual Apprentice of the Year Award given out by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
Ahh, student loans, they just won’t ever bloody go away will they. Well, it’s funny you say that, because they might not. With the first round of students who took out tuition loans of £9,000 a year set to graduate and start repaying their loans this coming summer, concerns have being raised about the repayment scheme and how much some students could be paying back.
It’s not taking place until May, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid all the general election hype; not dissimilar from trying to avoid the weird kids you lived with during first year on the last night of term.
Kids don’t know anything, right? Wrong. Lisa Bean from Gradvert.com doesn't seem to think so anyway! Here she offers an interesting insight into how you can learn from a three year-old, especially when it comes to boosting your career potential…
“Britain now has a gap between rich and poor that rivals that in some developing nations” says High Pay Commission
Yesterday saw the publication of the final report of the High Pay Commission. It was apt timing too, just a few days after the Occupy London protest kicked up a notch with the occupation of the UBS building. Maudie Powell-Tuck considers the impact of the report and considers whether high rates of pay are justified or not…
Although more than one million young people in the UK are jobless at the moment, the common perception that youth unemployment is currently at an all-time high is false. In actual fact, the highest ever level of youth unemployment in the UK was 28 years ago in 1984, when a whopping 1.2 million young people were out of work…
The All About Careers team has a new member for a week! Our work experience student Alina Eltgen is 17 and from Bonn in North West Germany. She’s been getting stuck into life here in the All About Careers office and her very first experience of living and working abroad. Here she writes about how she’s found the office, working in a foreign language and offers a few gems of advice for those considering work experience abroad…
Science and engineering have traditionally been male-dominated subjects. But has anything changed in these modern times? Are more women donning lab coats or is gender imbalance still rife in the scientific community? Madeleine Finlay, a physics student at the University of Edinburgh (what? A girl studying physics?) investigates…
If you believe the media, every graduate steps straight out of university and into the dole queue. They’re living at home, still getting spoon-fed by their parents, before leaving to go and mop floors in a school, still trying to choke down the bitter pill of graduate disillusionment…
In 2013, Bond Pearce LLP and Dickinson Dees LLP merged to create a new national law firm. Trainee Luke McDonald told us how it felt to be part of such an exciting development and how it has positively affected the course of his training contract.
As Brazil 2014 finally kicks off and England get set to begin their valiant attempt to bring the trophy home, we’ve put our heads together and pondered on what could have been career wise for each squad member if they weren’t pulling on the three lions-adorned shirt right now. Check out these alternative histories for Roy and our starting XI…
If you’re a fan of the round ball game, then the next few weeks mark your four-yearly fix of ultimate sporting excitement. (And if you’re a hater, not a lover, then best stock up on emergency rations of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad box sets. It’s going to be a long 32 days.) At times like this, football fanatics are posed with a problem. How to keep up with the World Cup events when a little thing called work stands in the way? Needless to say, it’s going to be a lot easier for some than others. Here’s a rundown of some of the best jobs out there which will allow for ultimate enjoyment and immersion in the beautiful game’s big moment…
Ken Clarke has suggested that a tie-break system should be used to increase diversity amongst judges. Student blogger and columnist, Benjamin Greenstone, examines the implications behind the proposal, questioning whether it really is the most effective way to encourage progress in the appointment of women and members of ethnic minorities in the judicial system.
At some point over the last few months, you’ve probably asked yourself the question: “Should I do an unpaid internship?” You’re not alone. This perplexing question plagues the inner psyche of at least 157 students every second in the UK.* Hot Rant, a blog for angry people, has also spent some time pondering the ultimate student dilemma. Have they reached a logical conclusion? Find out right here, right now!
Apprenticeships have been around since the dawn of civilisation. Four thousand years ago, artisans were required by law to pass on their craft to youngsters in ancient Babylonia. Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome all had formal trainees. Apprenticeships are still alive and kicking in the UK today, and, to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we’ve searched high and low for our top ten most unusual apprenticeships in the country…
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is almost upon us and this year’s royal rumble has received a lot of media hype. Of course, England’s hopes of winning the tournament are wafer thin and we all know that the cursed penalty shootout will come back to haunt us and by Euro 2016 we’ll be looking at a whopping 50 years of hurt!
This week at AllAboutCareers Towers we’re saying a fond farewell to our placement student, Lizzi. Sad faces all round! She’s spent a whole year with us and, needless to say, she’s done a cracking job. There’s been ice buckets, there’s been office pyjama days, and a lorra lorra, laughs. As we all struggle to move after polishing off our goodbye lunch burgers, she’s let us in on her five top reasons to do a placement year…
Returning home for the summer after a whirlwind year of university can bring about mixed feelings. You’ve had your taste of freedom, and now you face the prospect of moving back in with your family. Could be good? Could be bad? Perhaps things won’t quite be how you remember it and there’ll be some revelations along the way. Brace yourself!
An office is not just a room; it’s the place where many people spend the vast majority of their adult life. They say a happy worker is a productive worker, so surely a good working environment is the key to creating a successful company. With this in mind, we’ve decided to honour the companies in the UK that are dedicated to creating an awesome, inspiring and enjoyable working environment. With help from OfficeSnapshots.com, we bring you The Ten Coolest Offices in the UK...
So you thought you had to go to university to develop a career in public finance? Think again! Johanna Courtney from CIPFA told us about the CIPFA Apprenticeship Scheme, which gives school leavers and career changers to opportunity to get straight into public sector accountancy, simultaneously gaining qualifications and work experience. CIPFA Apprentices Grace Gardner-Howard and Martin Stevens also gave an insight into their experiences on the scheme so far…
They often say that attack is the best form of defence. If you really want to stand out from the crowd in your group interview, maybe it’s a good idea to make the crowd look like a bunch of idiots?! Eliminate the competition. Get the job. Simple, right? Hmmm…maybe not.
With tuition fees set to rise, it looks like tough times ahead for courses branded by the media as ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees. The darlings of clearing, these courses have been at the centre of controversy since their inception. We take a look at the ones that have caused the most huffing and puffing in the press…
Love them or hate them, school leaver hoodies are a ubiquitous sight at any UK university, particularly during freshers’ week. So why are they so popular? And is it acceptable to still wear them after the first term of university? Maudie Powell-Tuck tackles the sartorial student debate…
Ok, we admit it! This isn’t the most career-focused article we’ve ever written. The festive season is upon us, though, so we’ve decided to tell you ‘all about’ the best Christmas sandwiches on offer this year. Maybe you’re doing an internship at the moment; maybe you’ve finished university for Christmas and are working in a shop; maybe you’re lounging around at home, eating all the clementines and annoying your parents. Either way, you’re going to need a festive snack to get you through the next few days. ‘Turkey Feast’ your eyes on this bad boy…
For the Class of 2014, the university journey is over (unless you’re going on to do postgraduate study, of course). You’re leaving what has been home for three years, with loads more friends, thousands of great memories and one more qualification.
Two weeks ago, the SRA proposed the abolition of the minimum wage for trainee solicitors. The question is: should law students be welcoming these suggested changes or will it have further detrimental effects on social mobility in the legal profession? Student columnist and blogger, Benjamin Greenstone, weighs in with his opinion...
People might say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but, in the world of work, your petit dejeuner is nothing more than a trifling insignificance. Lunch is everything. But why is our choice of lunch at work so important? Do we choose to eat certain things because it physically helps us to stay alive? Or do we chow down on expensive grub to prevent ourselves from committing social suicide? Jack Collins tries his best to settle the ultimate lunchtime debate…
If you’re interested in a career as a solicitor, then you should be aware that on 31 July a big event is happening (other than it being a day after 30 July and a day before 1 August). It is, of course, the training contract deadline!
Please excuse Lisa Bean’s French! We’ve told her about her potty mouth before, but she’ll do just about anything to make sure you think long and hard about your career. Confused? Don’t be! Read her article and you’ll realise the key to a successful career path is all about not playing Twister…or something like that!
An internship often doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin. Companies often promise you the most exciting month of your life and tell you there’s an incredibly strong chance that you’ll get a job at the end of it! To be honest though, lots of these companies are telling porkies. Hot Rant, a blog for angry people, wonders what it’d be like if internship adverts actually told the truth…
Writing a CV as part of your training contract application can be a pretty nerve-wracking task. We thought we’d help you out by showing you exactly what NOT to do! Allow us to introduce the irrepressible Brian Johnson. Check out his CV to get a good idea of what you most definitely shouldn’t be including in your training contract application. Disclaimer: any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental…
UCAS released its application statistics for 2012 earlier this week, revealing that there has been a 7.4% decrease in the total number of applications for university places in the UK this year. With this news, plenty of misguided people have jumped on the bandwagon, citing the increase in tuition fees as the major cause for this ‘severe’ drop in university applications. However, this blind panic and finger pointing is completely unjustified. If we take a moment to carefully analyse the detailed statistics, it becomes clear that the decrease in university applications is minimal and the reason for this decline has been caused by a range of different factors…
We’ve put together some toe-curlingly bad answers to typical law firm questions. Slip these little babies into your training contract application and we guarantee it’ll go straight in the bin. So sit back, have a read, and put off filling out those training contract application forms for just a little bit longer…
To work in London, or not to work in London - that is the question. Is the capital the only realistic option for school leavers and graduates aiming for today’s high-flying job opportunities? And if so, is it even affordable?
The depiction of apprenticeships in films and TV shows can often be misleading. Since it’s National Apprenticeship Week, Jack Collins thought it was about time he discounted the myths perpetuated by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Star Wars, and BBC One’s hit show The Apprentice. Indeed, if you decide to do an apprenticeship, it’s important to remember that most of your time won’t be spent waving a lightsaber around whilst Sir Alan Sugar berates you for failing a task…
The world as we know it is becoming increasingly digital. You can’t buy a burger these days without someone snapping a pic of it with their 836 megapixel camera-come-smartphone-come-spaceship and uploading it instantly for the viewing pleasure of countless, eerily intangible, ‘friends’, ‘followers’, ‘connections’. But who else is watching? It’s high time to get social-networking savvy and we’re here to tell you how…
Graduating from university is bittersweet. It heralds a time in your life when you are no longer beholden to lecturers, mark schemes and exam boards. At the same time, it means that the warm and comforting embrace of the ‘establishment’ can no longer protect you from what lies beyond: the dark and dank wilderness of unemployment. So how can you translate unemployed into Employee of the Month?
Final years! The odds are that you’re starting to feel the pressure of the final few months of university and the prospect of a competitive jobs market out there. So what better way to improve things than by comparing ourselves to our seemingly more successful peers? Editor Jos Weale was a prime offender for this...
As A-level results day looms, students around the country gnaw at their fingernails in anticipation for the big day. For many, the culmination of two years’ work and the stresses of applying to university rests on just one sentence displayed on UCAS track, viewed at the absurd hour of 7am.
Everybody loves a piece of the rich and famous. So, in honour of National Apprenticeship Week, we are rolling out famous and celebrity ex-apprentices. Drake and Jay-Z might not feature, but you might be pleasantly surprised when you find out who started out as an apprentice. Drum roll please as we count down our top ten celebrity apprentices…
If you’re not getting paid for your internship and the tasks you’re given are a complete waste of time, you might as well have a bit of fun with it. We reckon you should get a little bit ‘creative’, especially if you want to stave off the utter tedium of making endless cups of tea and photocopying. Here’s our list of 38 ways to make your unpaid internship more interesting. Proceed with caution…
Have you ever wondered what your law firm would be called if you decided to start one up in the future? Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore! Follow the instructions below to find out the name of your future law firm…
Have you ever fantasised about starting a startup business? Have you ever wondered what you might call your company? Well, you don’t have to speculate anymore! We’ve created a useful tool to help you come up with the perfect business idea and the perfect name for your startup. Just follow the instructions below. Destiny awaits!