15 February 2010

The Write Education

Brought to you by today's dose of randomness: Do I need an education to be a writer? An apparently straightforward question, but the answer is not quite so straightforward. The answer is, it depends on what you mean by an education. >:)

Education, according to google:

1) activities that impart knowledge or skill
2) knowledge acquired by learning and instruction

See, there's a school of thought that says that you can't be a Writer (TM) unless you have a degree in writing of some description. But there's also a school of thought that says that writing degrees churn out 'writers' who are better at analysing than writing, and talking about writing than actually doing it.

As with all arguments, there's something to be said for both sides. On the one hand, I learnt more about writing from joining a critique group and learning to give good critiques than I ever did from the university courses in creative writing that I did. The courses were too structured, too infrequent (one lecture and one workshop per week; not much time when spread over 25 people per workshop), too focussed on the theory for me to learn anything terribly practical.

Which is not to say I'm not glad I did the courses; I did learn things, to be sure (one of the maxims that hangs above my computer came from that class: Imagine precisely.), and I enjoyed the classes very much.

I just learned even more by getting my hands dirty and actually critting other people's work voraciously. Which, if you read the definitions of 'education' given above, still fits: critiquing was an activity that I did that imparted knowledge and skill - knowledge about what worked and when, and skills relating to how to employ that knowledge to make my own writing stronger. Nothing can substitute for actually writing when it comes to learning the art and craft of writing :D

On the other hand, you might not need a degree to be a writer, but there's one thing that a formal education can give you that most people don't learn elsewhere: critical thinking.

To be a truly great writer, you have to think about the world around you - about how it works, why it works, and most of all, where it goes wrong.

Some fortunate souls are born wise, but most of us have to learn wisdom along the way. I used to think my university studies didn't teach me much - but now I compare myself to the incredibly intelligent students that I'm teaching and I realise how far I actually have come. Learning to think critically erases naivety about the world, about people, and it helps to dig out the truth hiding underneath.

Would I have got there in the end? Probably, but it would have been a longer road filled with much more personal experience, and less learning from others' mistakes and experiences.

You don't need a degree in order to be a good writer, and you certainly don't need a degree in writing. What you do need, however, is the ability to think critically and for yourself. And that kind of education is available in myriad different ways. So yes, would-be writers: you do need an education. Just not the kind you expect.


Danyelle said...

Amen! And books are much better than a pretty wall decoration. O:)

A.R. Norris said...

I second this!!!

Inkblot said...

Dany - what are you talking about? Books ARE a pretty wall decoration! They double as everything! :D hehe.

Amber - Thanks :D

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