MAYA ROSE FERNANDES
I’m a published novelist and short story writer, who also teaches creative writing in Goa. I’ve been doing this for close to eight years now, but I still get asked whether writing can be taught. Even though I’ve heard it plenty of times before, I still get taken aback everytime I hear someone ask me this.
Just to clarify, ‘creative writing’ refers to forms like short stories, novels, plays, poetry and some types of non-fiction, like creative non-fiction or travel writing. It doesn’t really refer to journalistic forms, investigative reporting or technical writing, for example.
All art can be studied. All art can be taught. Just as Michaelangelo and Mozart learned their art from those who came before them, so did Austen, Tolstoy and Hemingway.
Fairy tales, fables, detective fiction, crime stories, even romance novels all have plot-driven formulae that can be studied, taught, learned. Literary fiction authors learn how to use metaphor and allegory to make political or social commentary.
I, myself, studied the writing craft during my MA program in Creative Writing in the UK. I didn’t sign up to the program specifically to become a published writer and I don’t think that a writing program is any guarantee of getting published.
I was working full-time as an international development professional, trying to keep my dream of being a published author alive by taking evening classes in different writing genres from a local institution. I signed up for the Master’s degree because I wanted the challenge of producing a book-length, publishable work, instead of small, incomplete, incoherent pieces of work that just lay in a folder.
I needed the deadlines to motivate me to complete stories and essays. I wanted to get credit for them, and most of all, I wanted to be instructed by as many published authors in different genres as possible. I wanted to immerse myself thoroughly in a different world filled with academics and authors that breathed the writing craft.
Graduating with my Master’s degree gave me a huge amount of confidence, thanks to my exposure to this other world. My course taught me how to think critically about creative writing and how to write better.
There is a great danger in holding onto the idea that true artists are gifted. During my workshops in Goa, I have met plenty of gifted writers who are wasting their talent due to lack of grit, practice and perseverance.
Even the greats had to deal with rejection at some point in their lives. On the other hand, I have great respect for those who dedicatedly practice their art, who arrive everyday at their seat before the muse, waiting for them to appear.
Rejection is their close companion and they also celebrate each small and big win equally.
True, they’ll only go as far as they can push themselves, using every ounce of self-belief to drive themselves forward. So, to those who tell me that artists are gifted and writing can’t be taught, I tell them to discard those myths and unhelpful ways of thinking.
Human beings think and learn best in the form of story. Documenting it in an appealing form, whether that’s poetry or short story, is just another logical step. Personally speaking, I’ve found it useful to study the three acts of story first promoted by Aristotle, and the importance of conflict in outlining plot.
One doesn’t have to sign up for a creative writing course or a degree, of course. That is not what I’m saying here. You might choose, like so many of the great writers that have gone before, to learn by studying what their peers have published in terms of prose style, structure and literary form. But, I do think it’s important to dispel this myth that writing is birthed only from genius, or natural talent and cannot be taught.
If you do want to explore the option of being taught how to write, writing courses, retreats and writing residencies are slowly starting to spread across the country including Goa. The key is to finding qualified instructors who have enough experience combined with the ability to teach and facilitate classes and workshops. So, the next time you wonder whether writing can be taught, remember this answer: Yes, it can.