There was no such thing as a Creative Writing A Level when I chose my A Level options aged 16. The closest thing was English Language or English Literature. I hated being told what to read and having to analyse the work of more established writers (and also Wuthering Heights), so I opted for English Language. Whilst I enjoyed studying English Language, I didn’t get to do nearly as much creative writing as I would’ve liked.
Unfortunately, the Creative Writing A Level in the UK will soon come to an end. The last A Level exams for it will be sat in 2018. There’s an increasing focus on academic writing in schools, meaning that those of us who are more creative are left to believe we’re less intelligent because we’re writers, artists, or musicians.
Children are being taught that creativity isn’t an important skill, one that they should nurture, or one that they can learn. And in teaching them that, we’re letting them down.
Saying that there’s not enough of a difference between other English-related A Levels and a Creative Writing A Level is like saying English Language and English Literature are the same. A good Creative Writing class (I emphasise good because there will be just as many bad ones as there are good, as there are with every subject), teaches you about control of language; originality; how changing one word can change the meaning of your piece entirely. It teaches about story structure, about the different forms of poetry, about why screenplays should be visual. It teaches a love of the written word that only a truly great teacher can inspire.
What I Learnt Studying Creative Writing
How to read like a writer
When you’re a writer, you shouldn’t read passively. If you read passively, you won’t learn anything. If you read actively you can pick up on what those who’ve published before you have done, and learn from them.
Types of short story, novel, poem
Flash fiction. Drabble. Novella. Triolet. Sonnets. Elegy. Haiku.
There are so many different types of writing it’s impossible to teach them all. Creative Writing gives you a taster of those forms. It teaches you about the constraints of them, and how to manipulate those constraints to fit your own work. Sometimes, you’ll discover a whole new form of writing that you love. And you never would’ve discovered it otherwise.
How to put an anthology together
Putting an anthology together was an integral part of my Creative Writing MA.
Not every course offers this, but those that do know that it’s a key way to help writers to get their work out there and get a taste of publication.
Public speaking/how to perform my writing
There is nothing I find more terrifying than doing presentations in front of people. Even now, despite having lost count of how many I had to do it in my four years of studying Creative Writing, the thought of them still petrifies me.
I used to feel the same about performing my own work, too. I was fine if it was someone else’s work, or if I was compering, but reading my own work? *Shudders*
It was the guidance and advice of my Creative Writing tutors that helped me to get over my fear. They encouraged me to read my work at the Restless Minds launch, and since then I’ve performed at five or six other times and each time I do, it gets easier. (Unless it’s a new or controversial piece, but in those cases, it’s to be expected.)
Public speaking is an important life skill that we should all have. It helps us to be more confident in what we’re saying in general, as well as when we have to present to colleagues in meetings.
You’ll never know everything
The beauty of studying writing is that there’s always more to learn. Everyone writes differently, and therefore everyone can teach you something different. A poet who writes fiction will approach it differently to someone who only writes fiction.
Why we need the Creative Writing A Level
In a recent series for the BBC, No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free? Dr Javid Abdelmoneim found that boys struggled to think of words to express their emotions. The only emotion they found easy to describe was anger. By encouraging boys to write more—at any age—we teach them that they’re allowed to express their feelings and emotions. This, in turn, helps future generations too.
Writing is important.
It helps us to deal with our problems. It helps us to process what’s going on in the rest of the world. It helps us to escape what’s going on in the rest of the world, even if it’s just for a little while.
Our words also help our readers. They help them to escape for a little while, and that escape can be the difference between being able to deal with what’s going on around them, and shutting down.
The words we use matter. They always have, and they always will.
You never know which of your words will make a difference. But there are words that you say and write that will make a difference, whether you’re a writer or not.
Writing is power.