The novelist Hanif Kureishi — who teaches creative writing at Kingston University, and whom I’d frankly never heard of before I saw this article — has recently come under some fire for remarks he made to The Guardian newspaper:
“A lot of my students just can’t tell a story. They can write sentences but they don’t know how to make a story go from there all the way through to the end without people dying of boredom in between. It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can….
“A lot of them [students] don’t really understand. It’s the story that really helps you. They worry about the writing and the prose and you think: ‘Fuck the prose, no one’s going to read your book for the writing, all they want to do is find out what happens in the story next.'”
He works with his own students, said Kureishi, “for a long time”. “They really start to perk up after about three years. And after about five years they really realise something about writing. It’s a very slow thing. People go on writing courses for a weekend and you think, ‘A weekend?'”
Concerning the same subject, Truman Capote once said:
“The last thing in the world I would do was waste my time going to college, because I knew what I wanted to do. The only reason to go to college is if you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or something in a highly specialized field…. If you want to be a writer, and you are a writer already, and if you can spell, there’s no reason to go to college” (“Want to be a Writer? Drop out of College”).
Paul Bowles, on the other hand, a stylistically pristine and very lyrical writer, who studied music in college but not literature, and who later in his life occasionally taught creative writing courses, once noted — and sagely so, I think — that there are far, far worse things aspiring writers can do than congregate among other aspiring writers and share work.
I always liked that sentiment, even if I don’t entirely agree with it. In fact, I guess I’ve always sort of felt the poet Philip Larkin put it best when he put it thus:
“I can’t understand these chaps who go round American universities explaining how they write poems: It’s like going round explaining how you sleep with your wife.”
2 Responses and Counting...
One really does need to know how to tell a story. However, I’m not sure I’d call writing workshops a waste of time. For some, workshops may help them realize that writing is hard work. For others, it may help them become better readers, which is something that may help them the rest of their lives. That said, one does not simply take a workshop and become a writer.
Regardless, I think we can all agree that the sawed off shotgun of literary pulp blows the zombies-forever-unpublished away with the a posteriori “the strength of perseverance is the best predictor of success.”
Regardless? Don’t you mean irregardless?
But, seriously speaking, I liked your comment alott — and I don’t mean to sound as if I’m just giving you some willy-nilly response — in particular I loved the fact that you quoted Betsy Lerner’s line: “the strength of perseverance is the best predictor of success.”
Isn’t that good? I honestly think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard on this subject.
Willy, it’s always good to see you.
Thank you for dropping by.