Writing courses, freeing or stifling?

Me looking moody during writer's course break

Choosing to study creative writing at a university level is a bit of a contentious choice for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s expensive for a start, and many people look at creative writing courses as somehow stifling rather than freeing, but in my early twenties I couldn’t think of anything more seductive than returning to classes to spend every day doing what I enjoyed best.

It didn’t turn out quite like I expected it. The experience produced a lot of mixed feelings in me, and at the time those feelings were mainly negative. However, an email from a friend (hi you) last night is making me reassess my opinion. She wanted to know whether I thought the course I did was worth the investment, so I swallowed the last lingering vestiges of bitterness and tried to look at the year objectively.

To my surprise, I’ve had to admit to myself that it wasn’t really a waste of time or money at all. I may have hated parts of it, but to be honest I mainly I hated the parts that exposed my weaknesses as a writer and those were exactly the bits I needed to hear all about. It wasn’t the easy and enjoyable ride I was maybe secretly hoping for – I still hate nearly everything I wrote during the course and I barely wrote anything in the year that followed it – but I did need it, or something like it, to kick me into shape.

There are arguments that classes like these turn out cookie-cutter creative students who are all well versed in the same cutting edge style and are in reality blunted by the experience, but they are ones I disagree with. The other writers I studied with have retained their own voices and styles, some of us just got better marks or were better liked by the tutors than others.

Like any art form, there are styles and fads within creative writing – but at the core these courses are designed to teach you a variety of fundamentals. You need to know the rules to break them after all. Before, I was just breaking everything at random, now I’ve a better idea about how I’m going about it and why. So while the course made me feel claustrophobic at the time, I’m going to have to endorse the experience. I think?