I am writing this post in an angered response to the so-called “writer’s advice” that I read online this morning. The author in question, Ray Bradbury, claims that “you can’t learn to write in college”. This ridiculous statement was provided by a man who turns ninety-one this year, and is out of touch with the brilliant learning experience and outstanding platform that writing at university today can give you.
Au contraire to Bradbury’s deluded opinion, you can certainly learn to write well in college. Writing courses at university are there to encourage and develop creative ability. Bradbury paints writing tutors as disgusting, repugnant people for daring to have the nerve to be renowned experts in the creative fields. “The teachers always think they know more than you, and they don’t.” Excuse me, Mr. Bradbury, isn’t that the purpose of having a writing mentor? Someone to guide and shape your work, offering criticism and positive feedback, not only helping you to improve it for publication, but also increasing your belief in your capabilities? Surely you can only strengthen your chances at establishing yourself as a writer by pushing your writing limits, as well as attending seminars and lectures on your chosen art form, and by talking to those in the profession who you would otherwise not have access to? Creative writing at university is undoubtedly a marvellous opportunity for this.
Bradbury defends his assessment by stating, “They [creative writing lecturers] have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time.”
Well I’m sorry that university creative writing curriculums aren’t to your petty taste, Mr. Bradbury, but that is a pretty absurd, even comical, reason for tarring all writing courses with your displeased brush. I suppose we’d all be studying your no doubt remarkable fantasy fiction if you had it your way.
The writers that we study in college are successful for a reason. Their techniques are there, for the taking, to emulate. You don’t have to like what they have to say, you don’t have to agree with their philosophies or opinions, but you can learn something from them. Just because my mentor happens to have a soft spot for John McGahern (looking at you Dr. John Kenny) does not mean that he forces said writer’s short stories down my throat. In fact, in my experience, creative writing teachers are always open to discovering and discussing new authors. College writing courses are shaped to bring out the best in you as an author, whether your specialism be in poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, fiction, non-fiction, or even all of the above. Having a working and professional writer as a mentor is really important, because they have been in the same position as you – with the bonus that they’ve experienced the publishing game and know how to enforce the word ‘EDIT’.
I am currently undertaking Creative Writing as an undergraduate at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and having a bloody fantastic time doing so, which is why I find Bradbury’s criticism of this so infuriating. I have learned more about writing over the last two years in my course than I have in the total of fifteen years that I have been pursuing this passion, and I’ve gained a lot more confidence in my writing than if I’d dismissed it as a mere hobby and not continued it to third level. I’ve met people who thankfully are just as enthusiastic about writing as I am and do not think I’m crazy for being a ‘Grammar Nazi’. Writing in a group has made me less coy about focusing on my writing future, comfortable in the knowledge that I will be spending next year working solely on my writing portfolio. Studying it at university has made me realise that writing, for me, is far more than a pastime. I want to make it my career, and thanks to college, I have mentors who are not only flourishing in terms of their own creative abilities but who are determined to help me do the same. Clearly Ray Bradbury didn’t have the same luck.
Link to Ray Bradbury article in ‘Advice to Writers’: http://www.advicetowriters.com/