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Friday, December 5, 2008

Creative Writing





THE editor of a leading literary journal, who is also an established writer, once said: “I can't understand why there is this mushrooming of creative writing courses. Why should a writer be taught to write?” 
   Another renowned writer answered, “As one who has developed a Master of creative writing course at the university, I can't let that one go.” This conversation occurred at a literary meeting in a pub at the Leith Literary Festival in Edinburgh a few years ago, where I was a discussant. 
   Creative writing as a taught university discipline has been an American reality for many years. Britain has seemed quite shy about embracing the idea of introducing the subject in its academic institutions for a while. The turnaround has come from students’ demand, older resistances have given way and creative writing has become one of the fastest growing departments in many universities. 
   On a rough national average, there are 50 applicants for every university place in creative writing. 
   The Open University, which is Britain's largest higher education institution and an A grade University, started off with short three-month courses which proved immensely popular. 
   Then it introduced a second level Creative Writing course which I taught in its very first year. The enthusiasm of students was overwhelming and the tide remains high. 
   Last year, I joined the new literature department at Napier University in Edinburgh, which has been rated as Scotland's top modern university and is of the first five in the UK. 
   With English literature, we have realised that we have to introduce creative writing, respecting students’ demand. We are starting joint honours degrees this October and a Master in creative writing in the following academic year. Why should aspiring writers be taught to write? From teaching in numerous creative writing workshops and on intensive courses like those run by the prestigious Arvon Foundation, I have realised that I missed out on such opportunities when I was in the lonely role of trying to find my ‘voice’ as a writer. 
   Creative writing courses break the first barriers as they address the difficulty of ‘starting to write’, facing the cold reality of a ‘writer’s block’ and in helping the student to discover her/his particular genre(s) and most importantly, a distinctive ‘voice’, through various task driven modes. In the workshop-led method, constructive peer criticism becomes the backbone of the journey towards the final ‘acceptable’ piece and is the training that prepares the writercritic for a future when s/he can stand back from her/his work and judge it dispassionately. 
   Creative writing courses encourage the student writer to allow a ‘cooling off ’ period to have a fresh perspective of what was written earlier and to face bravely the benefits of paring down 
   one’s own work. 
this shared creative environment, students not only learn from each other but have the encouragement we all need to develop what we are best at as writers. 
This, I feel, is an opportunity to build up a portfolio of publishable work. And the hard reality of the commercial world of finding a literary agent and a publisher, assessing the right literary journal for one’s work and knowing about the various outlets for one’s writing — whether on page or the web — is invaluable. 
Perhaps it is time to take the initiative to develop creative writing as a discipline in Indian universities. 




   Sunil Sharma 


Dil Se Desi Group


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