Books Magazine

William Styron On Creative Writing

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

A while back, I wrote a piece about why the Creative Writing MFA isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in securing one’s future as a writer.

As a writer without one, I’ve done fine with just an English degree. But some writers swear by the Creative Writing MFA.

So as I was looking over a Paris Review interview with William Styron, these two questions piqued my interest:

What value has the creative writing course for young writers?

STYRON

It gives them a start, I suppose. But it can be an awful waste of time. Look at those people who go back year after year to summer writers’ conferences, you get so you can pick them out a mile away. A writing course can only give you a start, and help a little. It can’t teach writing. The professor should weed out the good from the bad, cull them like a farmer, and not encourage the ones who haven’t got something. At one school I know in New York, which has a lot of writing courses, there are a couple of teachers who moon in the most disgusting way over the poorest, most talentless writers, giving false hope where there shouldn’t be any hope at all. Regularly they put out dreary little anthologies, the quality of which would chill your blood. It’s a ruinous business, a waste of paper and time, and such teachers should be abolished.

INTERVIEWER

The average teacher can’t teach anything about technique or style?

STYRON

Well, he can teach you something in matters of technique. You know—don’t tell a story from two points of view and that sort of thing. But I don’t think even the most conscientious and astute teachers can teach anything about style. Style comes only after long, hard practice and writing.

Styron is a little harsh. I would imagine he would stand firmly in the camp that, no, not everyone is a writer.

And I agree with that, though I do think writing can be taught, to some degree. And I also think the Creative Writing MFA can be valuable. But as I mentioned in the aforementioned blog post, I would never, ever recommend someone go in debt for it.

What do you think about Styron’s comments?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)


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