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Study Creative Writing

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 13 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Writing Fiction Creative Writing Writers

Is it possible to learn to be creative? This is something which many would-be fiction writers wonder about. Even if you're already doing creative writing of your own, you may have identified weaknesses in your work which you'd like to do something about.

Fortunately, though creativity itself may depend on natural talent, the craft of writing - and of developing your ideas - is something which can always benefit from study.

If you've looked into studying creative writing, you'll have found that there are a large number of courses and books available. It's no secret that some of these are exploitative and will take your money whilst giving you very little in return.

So how can you choose the right ones? And is there anything else you can do to improve your writing skills?

Creative Writing Books

When you're looking for a creative writing book, it's important to think about which aspects of creative writing you want to develop. Whilst there are some good general books available, like Natalie Goldberg's 'Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within', you'll generally find that books which limit themselves to a specific subject area, such as Syd Field's excellent 'Screenplay', are the most effective at teaching practical aspects of the craft.

Don't be tempted to buy a book just because it includes work by or a recommendation from a writer you admire. Consider where your own talent lies and look for something which will help you to build on your own strengths and compensate for your weaknesses, rather than something which will try and shape your talent in emulation of somebody else.

Beware of creative writing books which use sensationalist terms to describe what they can do for your career. Many of these concentrate on flattery at the expense of education - a good book should make you work. 'The Creative Writing Coursebook: Forty Authors Share Advice and Exercises for Fiction and Poetry', edited by Julia Bell, is an impressive example of the latter, breaking down the business of creative writing in practical ways and providing exercises which you can undertake to develop your work.

Whatever book you use, in the absence of a tutor to oversee your progress it is vital that you're ruthless with yourself. Don't dismiss cautionary notes as not applicable to your own work - think carefully about where you need to improve and work with the book rather than despite it.

Creative Writing Courses

Thanks to the rise of the internet, it's now possible to buy most things online, and the same is true of creative writing courses. However, if you are to benefit from such a course - if it is to be more useful than a book - it's essential that you have access to one on one tuition. Courses which don't offer this may still be useful in teaching you the rules of a particular craft (such as how to format a play for the theatre), but they won't do much to develop your creative talents.

Access to one on one tuition doesn't mean you need to receive it all the time. It can be quite effective to work within a class (either online or in person) provided that there is somebody there who can regularly assess your work and whom you can turn to when you find yourself in difficulty. Most people find that being able to work with such a person face to face makes learning easier.

Many creative writing courses are taught by successful novelists or journalists. You may well assume that these are the best choice, but bear in mind that being good at something doesn't necessarily equate to understanding why one is good at something, nor to understanding why other people might have difficulty with it. Make sure that your proposed course tutor has some solid teaching experience and, if possible, look for recommendations from previous students. Can the course administrators provide a list of writers who have enjoyed success since taking it?

Whilst creative writing courses can be a useful way to develop your writing abilities, very few of them will help you when it comes to marketing your work. Unless you have studied under a highly acclaimed tutor or have undertaken a major writing course at a prestigious university, there's little point in mentioning your course in your covering letter when you're trying to sell creative work. So make sure you choose a course which is focused on learning and on personal achievement.

However you chose to try and develop your writing, don't forget the importance of wide-ranging general reading. Every accomplished writer is an accomplished reader first.

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