September 26


Teaching creative writing—a primitive medicine?

My brief essay on the teaching of creative writing has been published by the Fiction Writers Review. Although the essay is small, it is feisty, attempting first to diagnose a problem afflicting creative writing classrooms everywhere, and then to sketch a solution. Speaking of the field’s newness, the essay comments:

Such a limited state of knowledge should lead to humility, and openness to new ideas. I always feel peculiar when teachers attack their peers’ techniques, outlooks, and rubrics, either on panels or in print. How can we already know what doesn’t work? We have barely invented leeches.

Of all the aspects of creative writing pedagogy, the only ones that deserve attack are the ones that seem to be blocking the field’s development, the articles of faith that underpin what we do now, and prevent us from doing something more effective.

Here it is:

The Eras of Teaching Creative Writing

If you like it, I have a post on the same subject coming out tomorrow, on lit blog HTML Giant, which should complement and develop the argument.

Best wishes,



Fiction Writers Review, primitive medicine, teaching creative writing, the problem with workshops

You may also like

  • Nice post, but what about the students who show up with already written stories, ready for a workshop? What are they supposed to do in a “William Trevor workshop”?

    • Hi Andrew, thanks for commenting.

      Yes, the vision of creative writing classes I’m describing in that post is less student-centred than the current workshop model, where what gets handed in each week determines the content of the class to come. So my approach won’t be perfect for every creative writing class, especially ones where the teacher doesn’t have much time, or the class is only going to meet for a few sessions.

      However, when students, either undergrad or graduate, are taking a series of writing classes, one after another, seeing the same faces in many of their classes, does it make sense for them to keep handing in workshop pieces, keep receiving slightly confused critiques from classmates, and for the teacher to keep handing out piecemeal advice? I suspect not. I suspect that at some point either the students or the teacher needs to step back, and ask questions like, “What kind of works are we writing?” “How do those works, when they are successful, work?” “What are the pieces that seem to go into making a successful one, and how could we study those pieces by themselves?”

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Get writing today: join my free course

    All you need is an email address: work at your own pace as you write a new short story.