All over the country, creative writing courses are springing up like mushrooms. People gather to sit on hard chairs in cold classrooms on dark rainy nights. They book into B&Bs and sit at the feet of great writers during festival workshops. They attend seminars which promise to give them the inside track on the publication process.
The lure of million-euro publishing deals only goes a short way towards explaining why there has been such an explosion of interest in creative writing in recent years. From my own experience with creative writing courses and writer’s groups, very few people are looking to become published authors.
This does give rise to some sneering comments among the literati. But to me, it is unrealistic to consider creative writing courses as a vehicle for publication. They can act as a spur and some of today’s best-selling novelists have secured deals after attending courses. But if you really want to be published, you ultimately have to cast off on your own.
To me, creative writing courses bring untold benefits beyond the world of publishing. Above all, they offer people an opportunity for self-expression. Committing their innermost thoughts to paper can have therapeutic benefits for people who have no other outlet, but classes can also help them to shape their thoughts and transform their experiences into powerful stories.
For people who have a general interest in literature, creative writing classes give them a chance to find out how literature works. They can also give them the tools to begin writing as a hobby and to hone their natural skills. For a lot of people, completing a piece of work to the best of their ability offers all the satisfaction they need. They are not concerned about whether their work sees the light of day.
Some people view creative writing as a spirtual journey towards inner fulfilment. They may feel that they have a call to writing and that writing gives them a sense of completeness in themselves. For them, writing is balm for the soul and helps them tap into a higher power.
For others, writing is simply a diversion from the grind of daily life. I wrote an article on the merits of creative writing courses for Writer’s Forum. Carlo Gebler, one of the authors I spoke to, attributed the popularity of creative writing courses to a need in people to slow down, to return to a time when values were simpler and a pen and paper were all that was needed to get by in this world. Writing gives people that space. For the teenagers I’ve been working with, writing gives them a chance to break away from the regimented school curriculum and to recognise that writing can be fun.
The downturn has given a lot of people an unexpected amount of spare time. If you have any interest at all in writing or literature, now is the time to explore it. At the very least, it will bring a sense of purpose to your days. Many places, such as the Irish Writer’s Centre, are offering courses at reasonable rates. There are also plenty of online writing communities to explore. And who knows, you may end up with a best-selling novel on your hands.