My lovely volunteer in my WEA funded therapeutic creative writing class hands me an article. Ex-poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, and author David Lodge arguing over whether the growing plethora of creative writing courses being run by universities have any purpose.
It's a discussion that swirls around and comes to the surface every now and again. Yet we never see art or music or drama degrees being questioned. It's as if an aptitude for writing, alone of the creative arts, has to be divinely given and then developed through a lonely apprenticeship in a garret.
Can talent be taught or is it innately present? In my experience, there are some students who appear to have a particular feel for words and are able to experiment in evocative and innovative ways. But is this because they have given themselves permission to explore, play and commit themselves to their creative process?
Even if the spark is present - whether naturally or by design - more is required. Motivation; openness to feedback from others; technique; a voracious appetite for reading; regular practise - a writer is one who writes; an awareness of, and engagement with, the literary movements of the time. All these should come from a well taught creative writing course.
Interestingly, Lodge's main gripe was that universities were churning out writers who could only produce formulaic pieces. I think he is shooting at the wrong target. Publishers and their - our? - obsession with celebrity and product are doing that quite unaided. Students may decide to write to a formula, but that's because that's what will get them published. Lodge claims that in publishing originality and good writing will out - who is he trying to kid?
The article gave the number of authors who had been on short lists for literary prizes and had also been on a university creative writing course. It was high - especially for poets, that side of our demon art which is supposed to be more god-given than any other. Now surely that must be telling us something?