WELL, IN ANSWER to that question, I don’t think so. But more on that later.
You might have come across an article in The Guardian this week focusing on the remarks made by a Mr Hanif Kureishi, a lecturer in Creative Writing at Kingston University. In a nutshell (and indeed, perhaps surprisingly), he believes creative writing courses are “a waste of time” and that nearly all of his students are unable to even tell a story. Needless to say, such vehemence caused a divide in the world of readers and writers. But, although Mr Kureishi is perhaps a little too passionate in his diatribe against his own subject, I find myself agreeing; this debate having ignited a thought that had been flickering away in my mind for quite some time.
First of all, it’s important to regard creativity not so much a discipline as a personal characteristic. It is not a conventional ‘skill’ as plumbing, baking, embroidery, driving or swimming, all of which are things you can pay to have taught to you. Creativity is a trait of which we all have a varying degree – Shakespeare, Picasso and Wagner all had a lot of it, and I doubt the cast of Geordie Shore could be classed in quite the same league. That aside, when you see creativity in this way, the argument becomes a lot clearer. Of course you can’t teach creativity in the literal sense of teaching – just as you can’t teach shrewdness, romance, pragmatism, compassion or sentimentality. Can you imagine a ‘Sentimentality Course for Beginners?’ I can’t.
But what about Creative Writing, I hear you ask? Can that be taught? Well, technically, it can – the science of putting ideas onto paper in a creative way is teachable. The idea of having a ‘creative writer’ at the front of a lecture theatre, who explains ad infinitum oxymora and onomatopoeia and the various joys of comma splicing, is a real one. It is also undeniably useful in providing a way of looking at language, which is perhaps what the students of these courses are looking for in the first place. But as Mr Kureishi highlighted, even with all that, some of them might still have no idea how to write a story, because some of them just aren’t natural writers. I could spend thousands on Business Management degrees, and know how to run a business at the end of it, but I can tell you now – I couldn’t, because I’m not a naturally business-minded person. It’s like going into battle with all the weapons you could wish for, but being a pacifist. That is where the innate creativity comes in. An author’s voice is something that is found, not acquired, and their style is something that is developed, not prescribed. Without the natural understanding of how to creatively manipulate this arsenal we develop, what good is it? We’re humans, after all: a species designed to interact with the world, and so through reading and writing, and listening and watching, can we really become ‘creative writers’. Experiences teach us to become creative, just as they teach us to be shrewd, romantic, pragmatic, compassionate or sentimental, so there’s no need to sit at a desk. Einstein once said that “imagination is more important than knowledge”, and who am I to disagree?