Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Are writing classes worth it?

ETA (06/13/11): So I realized there is a fatal flaw to this post. Feel free to read on, but once you're done, check out the continuation in part two.

A couple weeks ago I promised I'd talk about creative writing classes, so here we go.

To start with, there are two camps when it comes to writing workshops: those who've taken them and those who think they're a waste of time. Sure, there's can be some overlap there, but that's the basic gist. Being that I took creative writing classes in college, we can obviously see where I fall.

However, I do think that creative writing classes can be waste of time. They're set up as workshop, so everyone has to participate and it's basically a giant critique group with some learning thrown in. What you need to understand though, is that workshops are only as good as the people that are in them.

The first writing workshop I ever took was a low-level class that many non-majors took to fill their writing requirement. This meant that I got to read a lot of terribly written short stories. They all involved murder, sex, or pot. No lie. Even though my professor was awesome, it wasn't a helpful class because my fellow students didn't offer the kind of writing or critique that I could learn from.

The next few workshops I took were much better because a selection process was involved. For higher level classes, the program I took required you to submit work and pray that you were accepted. The only problem with these classes was the people. I don't want to say that "they just didn't get my work," but I actually had an experience where that kinda happened. My professor actually told me to not listen to the critique that my fellow classmates had given because it would stifle my writing.

Now, the best writing workshop I took was also the last one I took. It was a limited opportunity because it was taught by a visting professor, so I felt pretty awesome when I got accepted. Then my professor was absolutely amazing. Better yet, my peers were amazing too. They offered critique and opinions that got me thinking about what I wrote and what it meant to be writing. Maybe I didn't agree with everyone all of the time, but I respected what they thought.

Like I said before, a writing workshop is like a giant critique group. And unfortunately, it's hard to find a perfect critique group. If you don't mesh with the people, then you won't get anything out the class, and the odds are against you finding the right group. The wrong professor, one jerk who talks louder than everyone else, people that can't or won't take you seriously--none of that is worth it.

Maybe people can teach themselves how to write without taking writing classes. Maybe they really are a waste of time and money. But I can't agree with that 100%. If you can find that one perfect workshop group, then you can learn so much more than you could by yourself. You'll be able to look at good writing in its early phases and discuss what makes published writing so great. Finding that opportunity is worth taking writing classes.

So what do you think? Agree or disagree? Have you ever taken a writing workshop? Was it part of a college course or maybe part of community education? Did you have a good time, or could you not wait until it was over? Tell me in the comments.