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Can you learn Creative Writing? In the English-speaking world, this question wouldn’t be asked like this at all. There’s no doubt about it: just as you can learn to play tennis, paint or design houses, you can also learn creative writing. Renowned authors teach creative writing courses – and often took them themselves during their college years.
Up to a certain point, you can everything learn
So where does the prejudice come from that you can’t learn creative writing? Especially in Germany, I think it has something to do with our relationship to literature. Goethe, Schiller, Kleist – so many great names in literary history are part of the German cultural heritage. What they have achieved – so the usual expectation – cannot be learned, you have to be a genius for it.
The idea that creative writing can be learned shatters the romantic notion of the lonely writer living in his garret just for literature, waiting to be kissed by the muse. The typical image of a writer in the U.S., on the other hand, is that he lives in New York and regularly parties with the country’s cultural elite.
Both certainly exist, but neither is the norm. Writing is a lot of work, as is any form of creativity. To write a novel, in addition to a good idea and some talent, you need above all perseverance and the appropriate tools of the trade. And exactly these tools can be learned.
Because the options aren’t entirely transparent, I’ve put together my top five tips on how and where to learn creative writing.
5 tips on how to learn creative writing
Tip 1: Reading
You have probably already heard this tip. It is absolutely the most important one from my point of view. An architect cannot learn how to design houses without looking at how others have done it. The same is true for writers. Without really reading a lot of novels, you won’t be able to write a good one.
I personally read on average one novel per week, except when I’m on vacation, when I read much more. I come so in the year on approx. 70 novels I read. I find that much too little, because there are so many great books that I would like to read. For a budding writer, it should be at least one book every two weeks.
And of course I’ll tell you why. The more different impressions you get from reading, the better your sense of language will become, as well as your sense of story structure. And this you will automatically incorporate into your own writing.
This article might also interest youIf you want to know how most novels are structured, read my article on the hero’s journey.
For my blog koffervollerbuecher.de I review a large part of the books I read. I have noticed that very often, when I review a book, I write in a similar style to how the book itself is written. So you see, style rubs off, and the best thing you can do is read a lot of books in the way you want to write them yourself.
However, there is nothing wrong with reading a really bad book, but you should be aware of it and be able to recognize what is bad about it and how it could be done better.
Tip 2: Study / writing courses
Creative writing is also offered as a course of study. The universities of Leipzig and Hildesheim offer such courses, as well as the ASH in Berlin and universities in Vienna and Bern. The courses are all very popular, the selection criteria are high, but the chances of being successful as a writer afterwards are good. Juli Zeh, for example, studied in Leipzig.
In addition to the difficulty of getting one of the coveted study places, these courses are of limited suitability for aspiring writers who are already pursuing another profession. You can’t study full time at a university while working a full time job.
There are some distance learning institutes that offer writing degree programs, such as SGD, ILS, or the School of Writing. These are, of course, much less well known than the state-recognized universities that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In addition, you make far fewer contacts with other authors, and you have to pay for your studies.
However, these distance learning courses are suitable for doing on your own, alongside your job, and if you’re disciplined enough, you’ll get some tools, a good structure for self-learning, and feedback on your own submissions. And that’s also very important in order to develop as a writer.
Another possibility to be taught creative writing are writing courses. These are available in many cities, often the adult education centers also offer such courses. However, they are often not very comprehensive, and those who want to see quick results may be at the wrong address here. For this, however, they are usually quite favorable and you get to know like-minded people.
Tip 3: Writing groups
You learn to write by reading and by theory, but most importantly by – writing. Since the view of one’s own work can sometimes be transfigured (positively or negatively), it is extremely important to get early and regular feedback from other people who also read and write a lot.
The best way to do this is to join a writing group. There are writing groups in every major city. You can find them via Facebook or through portals like Meet-up. The important thing is to find a writing group that suits you and is serious about it. Going on a coffee date is certainly nice, but it won’t get you an inch ahead in writing.
A good writing group will question you and pick apart your writing. It doesn’t help you if your texts are only praised. This will not develop you further. It is important that you listen to criticism from the beginning, this also prepares you already for your life as a writer.
If you are afraid that the criticism will hurt you too much, just show your writing to your partner or family before or after – they will find a lot of good in it. You have to deal constructively with the hints from the writing group. Not everything will be true, but there will be a point in everything that you should consider.
Tip 4: Writing guides
I am a big fan of writing guides and own a whole shelf of these clever books. Many writers (z.B. John Irving, Stephen King, Elizabeth George) share their knowledge and experiences with their fans and aspiring writers, and offer valuable writing tips.
Individual writing guides show you very specific ways to write your novel from A to Z (z.B. How to write a damn good novel), others have specialized in specific genres or specific skills. The market is huge, and it’s definitely worth doing some research.
Writing guides are especially interesting for those writers who like to be self-taught and get specific help on certain issues. If you prefer direct exchange with others, tips 2, 3 and 5 are more for you.
Tip 5: Internet
You can learn anything on the Internet, and for working writers this is a very good way to get more intensive exposure to creative writing. The great advantage is that you can combine all the other tips with each other. There are online writing courses, online writing groups, writing blogs (like this one) and several forums.
Here, of course, you have to have a fair amount of discipline to not get distracted by the other temptations of the Internet. And with so many websites and offers, it’s hard to find the one that suits you and stick with it. On the other hand, nowhere can you connect with like-minded people around the world as quickly and easily as on the Internet. And if you just ask, you’ll get lots of support, which comes simply from the wide reach of the medium.
I hope these tips help you find your own way to learn Creative Writing. From my point of view, the most important thing is to decide on a path and to follow it consistently. Trying to take too many different approaches at the same time only distracts your focus from the task at hand: writing your own novel.