I have just read Ravinder Randhawa's blog on Killing the Creative - In Creative Writing Courses.
Without wanting to offend her, I wanted to write about why, in my opinion, she is wrong and also about why I believe it's important to address the way the criticism of writing training for the reasons outlined in her blog is causing damage to the diversity of the writing industry.
Creative Writing courses are a relatively new animal - the first course was created in 1970 by Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson at the University of East Anglia and the first graduate Playwriting course was created in 1989 by David Edgar.
However, writer training is part of a long tradition of arts training - great artists like Picasso received formal art training, and some believe it is this formal training which allowed and paved the way for their greater experimentation.
Similarly, at London Writers' Week this year - the week we run at Central Saint Martins as part of our new campaign to provide increased access and diversity in the writing industry - one speaker spoke about this subject matter and the criticism of writing courses, pointing out "would we say a violinist is weaker because they have violin lessons", and how craft training, taught in the right way, similarly strengthens a writer's skills and voice rather than weakening it.
Ravinder Rhandhawa in her blog suggests the importance of craft training for a writer has never been considered important in the past. However, it seems to me that ideas of craft can be traced as far back as Aristotle who wrote Poetics and of "The Six Principles of Drama" or Horace who believed that a play should have five acts if it is to be a success, stating "Let no play be either shorter or longer than five acts, if when once seen it hopes to be called for and brought back to the stage". Horace wrote that 2000 years ago.
More recently, John Yorke, author of Into The Woods, former Head of Channel 4 Drama and Controller of BBC Drama Production, Managing Director of Angel Station, founder of the BBC Writers Academy and one of the Masters teaching the course I run at Central Saint Martins, has also spoken about how Shakespeare wrote in 5 acts and of how this is part of the success of his narratives and why they have lasted such a long time.
So why is it important to point this out? In my opinion, it's important because:
1. Writing training, in a similar way to other forms of arts training, has the potential to create greater diversity in the writing industry by equipping anyone with a craft skillset they can use throughout their careers
2. At Central Saint Martins, we believe writer training can also increase diversity in the writing industry by equipping writers with a business skillset, explaining who the companies are, how they work, how writers work with them etc.
3. Without the above skillsets, the likelihood of diversity decreases - because, if you don't come from a background associated with the arts, how do you know how to be a writer? And if you don't have training, you keep making mistakes, and, if you keep making mistakes, the likelihood is those with less financial security will drop out and give up on their writing aspirations.
This is the damage that's done, I believe, when we criticise creative writing courses. There are areas which need to be addressed (some of which I've outlined here) but it is only by addressing those, that we can make sure anyone can be a writer in the UK. Would we ask a plumber to come and fix our taps without training or expect a musician to know how to play the violin just by picking it up? The criticism of writing courses is only harming who the people who are able to tell our stories are.