Creative writing courses are not worth it.
Yes, it’s true. It is my personal opinion, of course. Questions like these are often ambiguous. I do not believe paying money for creative writing courses is actually worth it.
I can hear some of you moaning while you read this. Maybe you vehemently disagree. I can understand. Before we discuss why you shouldn’t pay money out of your pocket to join the best creative writing courses in the world, a little context.
I don’t make this statement idly. I have paid hard-earned money to study creative writing from people and places otherwise revered in the literary world.
The purpose of writing this piece is also to help you save your hard-earned money.
While reading my take here, you might feel I have an agenda against creative writing courses. Full disclosure – I do. I still think of how I could have put my money to different use.
Am I saying creative writing courses won’t help you become a better writer? No, but this doesn’t make giving money to take up a writing course worth it.
This entire piece is a breakdown of why you don’t need formal courses to study and learn creative writing.
Writing, Like All Art, is Ambiguous
We make all kinds of rules when it comes to writing. Characters must have arcs. Show don’t tell. A plot must have three acts.
To be fair, these rules are reasonable and there are many examples that show the power of these rules.
However, rules oversimplify writing as a practice and make it very specific. Let’s say you know all the rules of writing and even apply them while writing a novel. Can you guarantee you will be happy with whatever you write?
If you’re a writer, you must know writing is more than just a set of rules.
Perhaps the greatest indictment of the ‘rules’ of writing is literary history itself. Classic literature is filled with examples of how writers shunned existing rules. Mark Twain was ridiculed for his crass and uncouth language while writing Huckleberry Finn. Mary Shelley and HG Wells were shown the door as fantasy fiction was something beyond the pale at the time. Even now, all rules of writing advise writers to avoid aimless writing. Yet, Murakami has been writing aimless prose for decades now.
What does this show? Writing is an art and many writers forget this simple fact. Art has room for some guidelines, but no rules. The only rules writers must impose are on their own writing habits, not the content itself.
Most creative writing courses try to paint writing as a science. If you’re a content writer, then maybe writing is somewhat technical and scientific. However, creative writers mustn’t be afraid to break the rules and do anything necessary to write an interesting story.
Most Creative Writing Courses Have Generic Content
Becoming a great writer is a journey. You start with one thing, jump onto another, and so on. If you feel disheartened at getting rejected by publishers, you have to know misery is part of the journey. Accept it. Use it to write better stories.
Many writers who feel lost join expensive creative writing workshops to seek validation and direction. Now I’m not saying everything taught at a creative writing course is wrong. If you learn it well, the stuff they teach at creative writing classes will help you.
My problem is that the content is not worth the money. If you’re paying money for a creative writing course, you want trainers to tell you stuff no one can find sitting on Google for five minutes.
And yet, everyone can. Anything taught in a creative writing program can be learned through a few hours of YouTube videos. You don’t need to pay any money to get access to the generic content they teach in a creative writing class.
For the amount of money they charge, creative writing programs are not worth it for the simple reason their content is very generic. You can make up other reasons as well. However, the lack of distinct advice is a reason you should not pay money for a writing program, either online or classroom.
MasterClass Creative Writing Courses
Look at the Masterclass series as an example. Writers such as Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, RL Stine, and so on all have dedicated creative writing Masterclass programs. Here’s a trailer if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Fancy authors in such programs give you tips you can find on any half-assed writing blog in the world. Most of time, creative writing Masterclass courses are like long interviews of illustrious authors. Is it really worth spending $90 a pop for each of these courses?
I deeply admire all the famous authors conducting creative writing courses on Masterclass. I would happily buy their books, but will I buy their writing program? No, not after I know they are glorified podcasts.
Now you might ask why such successful authors have mundane creative writing programs. The answer is simple. The only problem is that you think there has to be a big secret reason behind the success of every author. There isn’t. The tips these authors give are guidelines. As a writer, you have to bear the load of walking down a lonely path and use or reject these guidelines based on your needs.
The entire Masterclass series is in fact a validation of the uselessness of creative writing courses.
Charles Bukowski wrote a poem on writing and writers. The poem sums up everything you need to know about writing.
If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.so you want to be a writer? by Charles Bukowski
If Not Creative Writing Classes, Then What?
A big reason writers join creative writing courses is that they feel lost and need direction. I can relate to this specific need. Sitting alone and writing forever is emotionally draining and writers need some validation at some point.
However, paying money to expensive programs is not the right option.
The best thing you can do is get in touch with other writers and form a writing group. You can find writer groups near your location through Meetup or other FB groups. Attend meetings of such groups, share your work there, and study the reaction. You will learn more about writing in a writers’ group than watching a Neil Gaiman Masterclass (podcast).
Joining such groups will also introduce you to your writing contemporaries. You will know where you stand and will receive real practical advice from peers.
When you’ve been a writer for a long time, you stop trusting esoteric ideas like creative writing courses and programs more. This is because experience helps you understand the things that really matter.
To make it as a writer, you need to find your own way. Creative writing courses are like distractions along the way. You should save your money and move on because that is the only way you’ll find success.