When I became a student of Creative Writing in 2007 the pedagogue within me broke through. I came into contact with good teacher-writers, but as a teacher myself I was groping to understand the shape and parameters of the discipline I had enlisted into. How did the Reading into Writing module, for example, differ in any way from the more established discipline of English studies I had just emerged from? Exactly how effective was this work shop approach, which seemed to me to have a deleterious effect on my morale? And when it came to teaching the subject, first at secondary and then later, a little bit at undergraduate level, I found myself reading around the theory and pedagogy of the subject, I realised that there wasn’t the mountain of literature I had anticipated. Many of the handbooks contained specks of gold, but you would need to pan for these first. And these handbooks were the rare fruits of single artist-teachers toiling single fields rather than the ripe produce of a fertile, well irrigated expanse of land.
I discovered that, in many ways, teachers of Creative Writing were lone operatives, developing their own systems, their own teaching rationales, their own modi operandi. They had to be, for they were deprived of a communal fund of knowledge from which to draw. Katherine Haake, in fact, describes creative writing as ‘the most untheorized, and in that respect, anachronistic area in the entire constellation of English studies’.
In the first of a collection of essays brought together under the title Creative Writing Studies: Practise, Research and Pedagogy the editors pose these questions: ‘What do we perceive as the subject content of Creative Writing in universities? What is its specific subject matter and what is related to it, but perhaps not core to its interests? Who chooses to study it, and what are their expectations? What indeed are the results of this studying?’ These are fundamental questions and betray a state of chronic uncertainty within the subject. Creative Writing’s nebulous identity may go some way towards explaining a reception of suspicion both within and without the academy, and points towards the need to delineate, in rather more definite terms, the intellectual territory it occupies.
Stephanie Vanderslice’s book, Rethinking Creative Writing, is one of a number of recent publications which draw explicit attention to the forces of conservatism which have limited the discipline for so many years. She makes a robust case for its development in line with the needs of students seeking to enter a rapidly evolving labour market and calls for ‘a more diverse, outward-looking, outcomes-oriented pedagogy’. With the runaway growth of new media and the content it requires’, she says, ‘and the rise of creative industry in general, now could hardly be a better time to steward such a curriculum, one poised to give students every advantage in the creative economy.’
There are those who would go further. There are those who advocate the rise of Creative Writing Studies, a discipline which stand distinct from its older sibling Creative Writing, but which seeks to academicise, historicise and systematise this otherwise feral subject. Exactly what constitutes this nascent, scholarly entity is very much open to debate, but it would almost certainly involve the development of new pedagogic strategies, the questioning of old ones, the formulation of new theories about the nature of creativity and the positing of fresh research or practise-based methodologies.
Creative Writing Studies might be studied in its own right by those who seek to forge a more scholarly career than current practise seems to facilitate for, and would serve to inform the structure and content of more traditional creative writing courses which could continue to cater for students with a specific focus on publication. At a time when Creative Writing is still in its formative stages, would the evolution of a new meta-discipline divert resources from the front line? Or could it operate as a kind of nerve centre where intelligence is gathered and reformulated into strategy. Perhaps we should look to Australia, where Creative Writing Studies has already taken root, for some of the answers.