Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The illusion of promise

In today's Sydney Morning Herald, a sometimes amusing article from the Guardian quoting Hanif Kureishi, author of My Beautiful Laundrette and Something to Tell You. One of the issues Kureishi discusses is the increasing number of universities offering degrees in creative writing, which he calls "the new mental hospitals". He makes a point that I myself have made many times, including directly to university writing students; that "creative writing courses set up false expectations that a literary career would inevitably follow."

We all know that if one completes an architecture degree, one can realistically expect to find a job as an architect. Likewise a teaching degree, a nursing degree, a plumber's ticket, and so on - they each lead directly to employment in one's chosen field. So the obvious assumption on the part of the creative writing graduate is that their degree will fast-track them up the ladder of writing success; that commissioning editors will read the qualification listed on the CV and take the manuscript in question straight to the top of the slush pile.

I am assured by several editors that it simply doesn't work like that. Great writing is great writing, regardless of who wrote it. Likewise crap writing. Really, the only possible uses for creative writing courses are to teach the students something new and useful about the craft of writing that will enable them to write better (in fact, shouldn't all courses actually teach us something rather than simply leading us through hoops for the sake of an educational transcript?) and to allow the graduate to work as a teacher of creative writing, although one could argue that runs on the board are of far more value than a whole bunch of theory one has never used in one's own practice.

The full article can be found here.

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