Nicholas Royle’s article on creative writing is facile and fairly indulgent itself (“Reader’s block”, 28 March). If he sat in on my creative writing seminars, he would see students learning the construction of formal poems through practice, which not only adds to the craft of their own poetry but also provides a better understanding of the canon of poetry in which these forms appear (that is, literary study).
We consider voice but there is no indulgence of the “I” - this whole “writing from the self” is one small aspect of a much larger discussion of voice in poetry. The focus on self is a myth by those who do not understand how creative writing is taught: there is room for an “I” (as well as a “you”, “he” and “she”), but this does not mean it is the writer every time.
As for calling students “20 egotistical know-nothings” - this is an insult to the very many intelligent, well-read young adults I have taught over the years. The ones who sign up for creative writing who are not serious about the genre figure out fairly quickly that it is a lot more rigorous than they thought and drift away. The majority may never be “poets” per se but everyone comments about how much learning and applying the craft of writing has helped their understanding of literature and their critical knowledge of poetry.
Students love having tutors who are writers. Why does this ridiculous antipathy towards creative writing persist when people have, for more than a hundred years, held drama, dance and art institutions in esteem. It’s all creative; it all requires hard work. Only the best make it but everyone learns something.
Part-time tutor in literature, drama and creative writing
University of East Anglia
In principle, incorporation of creative writing into English courses is to be welcomed. Active learning is more effective than passive study. But there are serious questions to be asked.
First, creative writing is far from new in English universities. There has always been student activity, supported by clubs and societies, at Oxbridge to write and perform high-quality comedy, plays and poetry. Academics traditionally let students “neglect” theoretical literary studies to gain this vital practical experience. Why should incorporation of creative writing into the formal curriculum be better than such proven arrangements?
Second, lectureships provide day jobs for novelists and poets, while creative writing qualifications provide short cuts for decisions by agents and publishers. Non-academic writers have difficulty breaking into the circle, with its all-too-often self-referential standards. Are universities using creative writing to support organisational interests rather than to advance public literacy?
Third, Royle notes the comparative lack of playwriting in creative writing courses. He overlooks emergent uses of language such as blogs and scripts for computer games. How does creative writing in English departments relate to commercial demand and to new media?
I am attending very practical part-time scriptwriting short courses started recently by a theatre. If universities are to remain competitive alongside such grass-roots innovations, large departments, not only in English, need to have flexible and consumer-orientated attitudes.