Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stephen King on Teaching Writing

My take? You can't "teach" creative writing, but you can polish, you can craft, you can edit and learn from other writers. That's why a creative writing job is so appealing. Not only is your job to read stories all day, but it's nearly always (and should always be, in my opinion) a workshop class, placing the burden of "teaching" on the entire class as they analyze and discuss each others' writing -- what worked, what didn't, and why.

So I agree that you tell them they have to read and they have to write a lot, but you can facilitate that in class by requiring a lot of writing and a lot of reading. Have them read the greats, the ones that did storytelling right, then discuss what made them great, and so on.

So, I guess I disagree with King on something. Never thought I'd see the day.

p.s. I absolutely NEVER tire of hearing what this man has to say. (Unless he's talking politics, heh) When it comes to writing, of any genre, the man is truly King.


  1. Wow. I feel like he is so spot on. Haha, I'm going to agree to disagree with you and agree with him, so I think you're okay with that. I don't mean that there is no good that can come out of a creative writing program, but I don't really think it helps writing. It helps other things, which in their own time someone may choose to use or not use to help their writing.

    I love what he said about people in writing programs writing prose which is stiff and defensive.

    I just love this clip. Everything he has to say here is exactly right to me.

    Other interesting point of note. My first novel protagonist is male. It's my natural point of view. Huh.

  2. And yet, you use the workshop approach, and you used it heavily at the beginning of your novel, when you first came up with the idea. It was hard for you to write the next part until you'd heard back from me. Did I significantly change your writing? No. Would you have eventually written this thing anyway? Maybe. But even now you're working very closely with your cousin who has changed things you've said, dramatically.

    I would suggest that not all writers have someone they can work with that is well versed in plot, character, dialogue, etc. Oh, you can send them to readers who will say "This doesn't work," but it's difficult for someone who is not versed in writing to suggest concrete reasons to help make it work.

    To me, a good program will work one on one with a student like that, as well as utilize the workshop approach.

    But, like I said above, I agree to a certain extent. There are those who just can't write and want to. And you can't make them good writers, I don't think. Either you can tell a story or you can't.

    However, who am I decide that? lol... I feel like I'm moving in circles. Because that's how I feel about this whole thing-- it's part true and part not true. Even King went to a creative writing program, and I've heard him talk about how it helped-- in surprising ways. I suppose he feels he was that writer before he reached that program, but again, he talks about how he learned in high school from the newspaper guy-- we just don't write in a vacuum. We write solo, then open it up to world and write it again.

    I hope to be a teacher that doesn't push academic fiction. I plan to let my students write commercial or literary, genre, etc. After all, I read pretty much all genres.

    I'm not at all upset, haha. But I am defensive. This is after all the profession I plan to go into-- and not because I can't make any money at writing. If I were a millionaire on Oprah, I'd still teach at least 1 or 2 courses in writing because I believe in it.

  3. Oh, I guess I misunderstood what you were saying. Workshopping is good. But you don't need a creative writing program to get it. And yes, I do owe my writing ambitions a lot to a writing teacher, but I didn't get that from a creative writing program.

    I feel like Tevia. He is right, and you are right. You cannot both be right, which is also right.

  4. :-) I look forward to watching this clip when I'm sans bosses. How's the start of the semester going for you? Did you ever have a class with Al? I'm taking my last course with him and after the first day I'm already excited and in love. I told you I'll also be helping Elizabeth with interviewing her students for her research. We're presenting at NCTE in November but I want to change my presentation already!

  5. Day one and two are going great, Emily. The best news so far? Five dropped my first class (before semester started), so I've only got 16 in that class! And a few dropped (also before our first class) the second one, so only 18 in there.

    It's so nice because I've got three courses at Sinclair, so I know I'll be busy busy. They're a great group of students from what I can tell so far. :)

    Dish about your presentations! And I never got to have a class with Al. =[

    I ended up having an independent study with Joe Pici instead.

  6. Wait, I have something else to say!

    I think King has a problem with always striving to describe what makes writing good, something I think is indescribable.

    If you're the right kind of person, you can have never read a book in your life and sit down and write something incredible after a lot of discipline in the prose. Also, you can read a ton and sit down and have an incredible first draft first try. (For the most part, I think this is a possibility...) Writing depends on the person.

  7. I completely agree, Jaimie. But I think everyone can benefit from outside help, even if it's just in the form of encouragement.

  8. As you know, I'm a big fan, too! I love to hear just about anything he has to say about writing. And, he is the go-to-guy for dialog. And I am with him about teaching creativity, in any form. But honing is good, perfecting is good, shaping is good. And reading along the way, that's the best advice.