11/02/2010

Teaching Sf

I've been a bit hesitant over talking about this, but I've been playing fairly seriously with the idea of teaching science fiction writing. The idea got started in my head when I started doing paid critiques of people's unpublished novels and realised the very great majority of them were making the most fundamental errors in their writing over and over and over again. A lot of what I learned about writing came from observation (ie reading lots of sf and paying attention), study (often from those thousands of books on writing you can get) and informed criticism (either internal or through things like the local sf writer's critique workshop). The idea got a boost when I realised critiquing other people's novels in this way - which also includes telling the author what I think would make their novel better/more salable - was making my own writing better; thinking more about what made other people's fiction work made me think more about what made my own fiction work (or not work, depending on where you stand). The critiquing's worked out pretty well, with some writers returning to ask me to help them with other things they've written.

That naturally evolved into something along the lines of 'I wonder if I could teach writing?' That's a harder question to answer because I haven't done it. But I often hear stories about people taking part in some writing class which turned out to be taught by someone with little more experience than the people they're teaching.

Since I got back to the UK in March, I made some enquiries. I contacted a couple of local colleges - tentatively - asking them if they thought this was something they might be interested in. I got knocked back, but politely. Then I recently found out a local university is in fact running evening classes on writing sf, fantasy and horror - and taught by someone who, so far as I can tell, hasn't ever written a word of sf.

Now, to be fair, judging by this person's website, they're not a bad writer. They have talent. It could be this person is a phenomenal teacher, with a wide interest in the fields of sf, fantasy and horror to inform them - although that would be an assumption on my part, since there's zero evidence to support that assumption anywhere on their personal website.

So it would be a mistake to assume too much; nonetheless, a brief discussion with another pro sf writer of my acquaintance who also works in a University - and also teaches sf writing - went some way towards confirming my suspicion that a great number of those teaching creative writing are often little qualified to do so (and in case you protest this, please remember this is what I have been told by different sources, some of whom have been very unhappy at spending their money on classes that proved of so little worth to them they wished they'd spent the money on how-to books written by people they'd heard of. If you know or think otherwise, do let me know in the comments). My own experience of paid writing classes way back in the day was, I'm afraid, overwhelmingly negative.

So finding out someone who doesn't write sf is running a local paid class on writing sf spurred me to think really, really hard about why I wasn't doing the same damn thing. Well, there's various thoughts on that. One is: I couldn't possibly do any worse than some of the people I've heard about. Another is: after five novels published and another three due in the next couple of years, I think I just might be qualified, in experience if nothing else. I wouldn't be the first pro sf writer to try their hand at teaching. I might even have something useful to say about fantasy and horror as well. A lot of it by necessity wouldn't just be about sf - it would be about writing in general, and how to get better at it.

If I did do this, it would likely not be something spread over several weeks. It might instead by a very intensive two-day thing spread over a weekend. It's hard for people to commit to something week-in, week-out, if you've got any kind of a life or commitments. So here's my question to you: if you're reading this blog, there's a decent chance you've thought about writing yourself. Have you ever thought about attending a paid writing workshop, say over a weekend? Does it make any difference to you if the person teaching it is a pro, with a history of publication and novels?

Also, if you've had any positive or negative experiences attending paid writing classes, I'd like to hear about them.
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