This week, author Hanif Kureishi controversially said that creative writing courses are a waste of time.
This week, author Hanif Kureishi controversially said that creative writing courses are a waste of time. The 59 year old, who wrote ‘The Buddha of Suburbia,’ was speaking at The Independent Bath Literature Festival when he made the comments.
Kureishi teaches creative writing at Kingston University in London, where he was given a professorship in October. Despite this, he has stated that the vast majority of students, including his own, are “talentless.”
Speaking about his students, he said: “99.9% are not talented and the little bit that is left is talent.” He continued, saying that his students “can write sentences but don’t know how to make a story go from there all the way to the end without people dying of boredom in between.”
Kureishi then added, “Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.”
So why is he teaching on a creative writing course?
A spokesperson for Kingston University said that Kureishi was teaching an “extremely demanding and valuable course.” As a creative writing student myself, I would certainly agree that these courses are valuable.
There’s more to the writing than the story
I think you need to have an intimate knowledge of existing writing styles before you can successfully develop your own, similar to other creative professions. In the world of art, for example, artists such as Picasso were only able to create innovative new styles like cubism because they had already mastered more traditional styles of painting.
“A lot of students work with each other in ways that are not very helpful or creative,” according to Kureishi, which from my experience is not true. When my class have workshops, we all express our opinions and help others by suggesting improvements and ideas.
I wouldn’t be happy if I was one of Kureishi’s students. He said that “they worry about the writing and the prose and you think: no-one’s going to read your book for the writing, all they want to do is find out what happens in the story next.”
I agree that the story should be more important than the actual writing, but I still think that the writing is significant. The writing is important because an author has to be able to communicate effectively with the reader to avoid confusion.
In my opinion, every good writer should express themselves clearly through their own distinct writing style, which is one of the purposes of creative writing courses – to help students find and develop their own writing style.
Besides, by saying that the quality of writing is not important, Kureishi is disregarding literacy and grammar, which is problematic because of the falling literacy standards in the UK.
Kureishi also said that if he were starting out now, he would not enrol on a writing course. He said he would instead, “find one teacher who would be really good for me.”
This is all very well, but for a student who is new to the writing profession it can be hard to find more experienced writers to learn from. This is another reason why I am finding my course so helpful. I’ve got to meet and learn from practicing writers that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I’ve learned lots of hints and tips from them.
Unfortunately, working in a creative profession is increasingly becoming about getting your name and your work out there, which means you have to be good at marketing yourself online. This is made much easier by having connections to other writers and people in the creative industries – the more people you know, the better.
He further added: “The whole thing with courses is that there are too many teachers on them, and most are going to teach you stuff that is a waste of time for you.”
Certainly there are modules on my course that I am less interested in, but I still think that it’s important to learn as much as you can, for the experience if nothing else. In my opinion, if you want to be a writer then everything you learn on the course should be relevant. Every piece of writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is creative, so what you learn in one module could well be applied to another. Also, by trying out different kinds of writing, you might come across something that you like but had never thought of writing before.
Kureishi also said, “It’s a real nightmare trying to make a living as a writer,” and he’s right – writing is a very competitive field.
I think that this only shows how worthwhile creative writing courses are, because there’s so much more to them than learning how to write. And in such a competitive market, you need all the help you can get.
What do you think of creative writing courses? Are they essential? Have your say in the comments section below.
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