Apparently there is a lot more money to be made in TEACHING writing to other people than there is in the actual writing of things. Because my facebook sidebar and email inbox are always chockablock with creative writing courses, seminars, workshops and self-published (irony much?) books on tips for finishing your novel, etc.
It sort of bothers me because it falls into the 20th Century trap of Validation By Degree. We don’t do apprenticeships anymore; craftsmanship and skill attained through disciplined and mentored practice have ceded the high ground. Now all you need to do is take a class or a series of classes, get a diploma and then–by golly! You are a hairdresser or an auto mechanic or even an actual writer.
Classroom instruction has its merits, to be sure. Without it I’d be huntandpecking this blog entry and the grammar wouldn’t be so fine. I’d probably also be unable to tell you who the combatants were in the War of 1812 and who served as the Third President Of The United States. But actual craft is not a booklearned thing. Not even for a writer. Craftsmanship is born from practice and persistence and the polishing of past failures. That’s what I find so incredibly jarring about all these “get a loan and learn to write a novel from us!” schemes. They aren’t really honing craftsmanship. They’re just paying some stranger to indulge them in a dream.
Because that’s the other insidious thing about coursework for craft. It gives one the appearance of doing something. We have been conditioned in my generation to accept Going To School as an honourable career path, regardless of outcome. Studenthood has attained an air of nobility and acceptability and with that the conferment of legitimacy. And while studenthood IS worthwhile for some things–would you want a doctor who learned only by trial and error on patients?–it does not complete the craft. Works are called that because they are that. The product of your effort. For instance, my husband is taking his second course in stained glass making. He can go to the classes once a week and know in his head the general theory of how one does a copper foil or lead glass project. But it’s only by spending hours in his studio grinding away and soldering the cracks that he can come away with an actual work of art.