Posts Tagged With: Ted Hughes

Guest Post: Can Creative Writing Be Taught? (Bridget Whelan)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of our epic guest post marathon! To wrap up this insightful month, we have Bridget Whelan discussing creative writing, and why taking a class on the subject isn’t the end of the world.


Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

Musicians take lessons and artists go to art school, but people frown if you mention casually that you’ve enrolled in a creative writing course. It’s almost as if writing is like charisma – you either have it or you don’t.

The great writers of the past didn’t go back into the classroom before they penned their masterpiece, non-writing friends mutter darkly, but it seems to me that courses are another way of doing something writers have always done: learn their craft, experiment while they learn, and share the results with others who understand the challenge, before sending it out to the wider world.

Yeats set up The Rhymers’ Club in the last decade of the 19th century, long before he became a celebrated playwright and poet. He and his friends met at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese just off Fleet Street in central London and, like writing groups today, they (self) published two anthologies.

While art comes from within, you can learn literary techniques that will help you to be the writer you want to be. Against-the-clock writing exercises might seem very contrived, but the poet Ted Hughes believed that they help writers to overcome their inhibitions:

“The compulsion towards haste overthrows the ordinary precautions … Barriers break down, prisoners come out of their cells.”

But I have to admit not always. Ten minutes can seem like an awfully long time when it’s the wrong exercise, you’re in the wrong mood, or you’re saddled with the wrong tutor (It happens). Mind you, even that experience is an important lesson for writers. We are too ready to beat ourselves up if a passage of writing refuses to sing. What we need to do is accept and move on. Work through it. Write.

And that is exactly what you have to do in class.

There is another benefit to attending a course. Until a publishing house is breaking down the door, desperate for a completed manuscript, we have to make our own goals and deadlines, and classroom assignments are one way of doing that.

I teach in Brighton and London, and believe passionately that creative writing is the most vocational subject on the timetable. It always helps to be able to use words effectively – especially when faced with the most intimidating blank page you are ever likely to see: Why do you want this job?

This autumn, creative writing is being offered as an A Level class for the first time. I’m delighted that being creative is officially recognised as a good thing in schools. However, I know that one size does not fit all, and taught courses are not right for everyone.

There is only one certain way to learn the craft of creative writing, and it applies to 16 year olds, post grad students, and retired factory workers with a story to tell and no desire to go back into the classroom:

Write as much you can and read as much as you can.

And keep on keeping on.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABridget Whelan’s first novel, A GOOD CONFESSION—about a love affair between a priest and a young widow in 1960s London—was called “unputdownable” by Miriam Stoppard.

Bridget has run workshops in art galleries and museums, at community centres, and in adult education institutes. Three years after graduating from Goldsmiths College MA programme in Creative and Life Writing, she returned as a lecturer in non fiction writing. Bridget has also been writer in residence at a centre for the unemployed and low waged.

You can find her blog at She publishes a writing exercise every Monday, and on Safari Friday she highlights websites that are useful to writers and readers.

You can follow her on twitter at @agoodconfession, and she would love you to come over and be friends on facebook.


Unrelated media of the day:

I recently discovered this song whilst wandering the interwebs. It’s Japanese, and very odd — full of vampires and very intense guys rocking out on guitars and whatnot. After watching this with my brother, we had to go look up the lyrics, because we wanted to figure out what the connection between the video and the actual song were — turns out, the video is an extremely accurate representation of the lyrics (as in, the song really is about vampires and epic battles and whatnot). Who knew? Anyway, listen and enjoy, and I’ve included the translated lyrics below for your entertainment.

In the gloomy darkness,
The black storm roars.

My only wish
After the battle of destiny
Is to see you.

Why are you devoted
To my loathsome blood,
Is this thought a sin?

Now I will fight
So that the days when we rusted
Can shine again.
With these fangs.

Each one of us
Is burdened with the permanent past.
As we repeatedly seek repentance.
Enduring the unhealable scars.

But still, without hesitating,
We can change our fate.
Tell me, my girl
Is there any hope in tears?

Let me revive
The stole days of love
With my hands.
Dream of that much.
We will keep walking,
Towards the thoughts of our hearts.

I lie in despair.
Tear the shield apart,
And send the light forth!
Open your eyes, rusty hearts

Only you were there.
You taught me about the love that was beginning.
If I devote my life to it,
I will be the one to save you.

Now I will fight
So that the days when we rusted
Can shine again.
Even if I don’t have the you of those days,
I can still love forever.

If someday you decide to
Take back that smile,
It would be a sin.
If this body is corrupted,
Believe in love.
Shouting, rusty hearts.

Categories: Guest Post | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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