Why Creative Writers Should Stop Taking Creative Writing Courses

Yellow journalism–full disclosure: using slugs to get readers to click on your blog is bad business.  Bad bad business.  Penance.  Now let’s move on.

Here’s what I mean.  For those who do not know, I’ve been spending a good majority of my time over the last two years studying for my PhD in Literature and Criticism.  That means I’ve been reading, writing, attending classes, and taking exams (sometimes in foreign languages) in order to satisfy the requirements of an elusive but materializing dream of mine to force everyone I know to call me Doctor.  (Side note: I know this will not happen).

And here’s what we need to know; here’s how this relates to my writing life: I do not have a degree in Creative Writing.

BA: English and Psychology

MA: English Literature

PhD: Literature and Criticism.

That essentially means that I have no credentials to be an author nor to be the Director of the Creative Writing Certificate Program at CCP.  And perhaps I don’t.  Perhaps my friends with MFAs and Doctorates of Creative Writing (this is a thing now!) are more apt to teach and direct classes and programs in creative writing.  But wait, before I get fired, let me postulate a little here.  I firmly believe that it IS in fact my study of literature that lends knowledge and aptitude to my writing (let’s leave my credentials for another discussion, one where I’m not so sensitive).  I’ve always believed that a close and concise study of literature is best to inform the creative production of artistic text.  I mean, who better to learn from than the authors and poets we so genuinely admire?

Ok so naturally I’m not being antagonistic for the purpose of antagonism, nor am I being histrionic concerning the values of creative writing classes.  Here’s the truth: I teach creative writing classes.  I’ve taken them.  I love them.  And even though I love teaching literature just a little bit more, I see real value in learning craft; sitting with other artists, workshopping, and learning the ins and outs of what it means to be a writer (not just being a person who writes but BEING a writer, identity-wise).  All I’m saying is we (writers) need to study literature.  We need to read until our eyes fall out, until our foveas wish to emigrate to less hyperbolic sense centers, until we can appreciate those who’ve come before us in our wild, strange, and beautiful art.  I know literature is studied in creative writing classes; I, myself, spend a lot of time analyzing literature to teach creative writing.  And, really, if I’m being honest, I’ll probably sign up for an MFA program when I’m finished with my PhD, (one with study abroad options) because I don’t like stasis.  Further, everyone I know with an MFA can write like the Dickens, if not like Dickens or Dickinson.  But, for me, I’m a lit guy.  Through and through.

As I say to my classes, read 100 books for every book you intend to write.

As Thoreau said, “Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

And I just finished my last literature class ever.  I could really have an existential crisis about how my writing is seriously going to go downhill from here, but I’m too busy gazing over at my on-deck bookshelf for the next victim of my endless literary thirst.

So go read something.  Then write something.

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