D.D. Johnston discusses what authors can learn from a brief (and somewhat ill-informed) charge through 10,000 years of writing
Want to know the secret to writing? Turns out it’s not quite that simple…
Can writing be taught? Of course it can! Several times a year, someone starts a debate about whether Creative Writing can be taught. It’s not clear why – after all, those who oppose the teaching of writing are ankle-deep in the ocean, yelling at the tide to retreat – but the recurring debate has been on my mind for some weeks, ever since the Guardian featured me as an example of an author who has benefitted from – and who now delivers – formal education in the craft of writing.
Nobody doubts that music can be taught – we don’t read column after column questioning the existence of conservatoires. Nobody doubts that art can be taught – we don’t need a tri-annual debate on the value of the Royal College of Art. But writing, apparently, is a skill that defies instruction. This curious distinction may owe its roots to the ancients – to the distinction Plato made between poets (who brought new worlds into being) and painters (who merely imitated) – and certainly it’s inspired by the romantic myth of the creative genius, but, I suspect, it’s sustained by the self-images of certain writers who would like to see themselves as something more special than products of a good education (whether that education be formal or autodidactic). Why else do teachers such as Will Self and Hanif Kureishi draw salaries teaching writing while simultaneously condemning the teaching of writing as a waste of time?
Hanif Kureishi said that 99% of his students have no talent and are wasting their time; my thinking is closer to that of Gordon Lish, who must know a thing or two about developing writing. Lish said, “I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.”
Want to know the sort of thing we’ll be covering in 2015? Well, our posts will be grouped into the 25 topics listed below. We won’t be doing these strictly in order, but selecting from the topics menu on the right will bring up the videos we’ve done so far in any chosen category (thus far, we haven’t done any, so save yourself a click!).
- Getting started
- Writing as communication
- Selecting your material
- Story and plot
- Elements of style
- Specific concrete detail
- Tense and Point of View
- Story time and narrative time
- Common problems
- Pet hates
- Subject and theme
- Entertaining your readers
- Short fiction
- Novel writing – mastering the narrative
- Advanced stylistics
- Getting published
Onlinewritingtips.com was lovingly conceived by D.D. Johnston, whose first novel, Peace, Love, & Petrol Bombs, was a 2011 book of the year in The Sunday Herald. It has been recorded as an audio book for audible.com and translated into Spanish as Paz, amor y cócteles molotov. His second novel, The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub, was a 2013 book of the year in The Morning Star, where it was described as “determinedly extraordinary”. His third novel, a mystery suspense thriller, is anticipated in 2015. His short fiction has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and he has years of experience teaching Creative Writing – he is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire where in 2013 his excellence as an educator was recognised with a University Teaching Fellowship.
In delivering onlinewritingtips.com, he’s supported by Lucy Tyler and Tyler Keevil. Lucy’s plays have been performed in London, Berlin, and New York. They include The Operators, which in summer 2011 ran in Washington to critical acclaim, and The Measurements of a Murderer, which has recently been anthologised in Scenes for a Diverse World. She founded Eleven Places Theatre Company, and is currently researching a book on the different methods used to develop new writing. She’ll be contributing a range of content, particularly focusing on narrative structure and dialogue.
Tyler Keevil won the Readers’ Prize for Wales Book of the Year with successive novels. He won it for his debut novel, Fireball, and won it again for his second novel, The Drive. He has published short fiction in a variety of magazines and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic – including New Welsh Review, On Spec, Transmission, Brace, Staple, and Planet: The Welsh Internationalist – and 2014 saw the publication of his collected stories, Burrard Inlet. He has won many writing awards including, most recently, the $10,000 Journey Prize. He’ll be contributing advice in several different areas, particularly concerning getting published and submitting to agents and editors.
All three tutors are Senior lecturers at the University of Gloucestershire, where they’ve helped to develop the most popular (in terms of student satisfaction) Creative Writing course in the UK. You can learn more about studying at the University of Gloucestershire via the official website or the UoG Creative Writing Blog.