Achebe on Creative Writing

In the Art of Fiction No.139 of The Paris Review, Chinua Achebe is interviewed by Jerome Brooks and the following excerpt was all that was said about creative writing. I wanted to share this as it echoed my sentiments on the topic.

INTERVIEWER

Have you ever taught creative writing?

ACHEBE

No.

INTERVIEWER

Why not?

ACHEBE

Well, I don’t know how it’s done. I mean it. I really don’t know. The only thing I can say for it is that it provides work for writers. Don’t laugh! It’s very important. I think it’s very important for writers who need something else to do, especially in these precarious times. Many writers can’t make a living. So to be able to teach how to write is valuable to them. But I don’t really know about its value to the student. I don’t mean it’s useless. But I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to teach me how to write. That’s my own taste. I prefer to stumble on it. I prefer to go on trying all kinds of things, not to be told, This is the way it is done. Incidentally, there’s a story I like about a very distinguished writer today, who shall remain nameless, who had been taught creative writing in his younger days. The old man who taught him was reflecting about him one day: I remember his work was so good that I said to him, Don’t stop writing, never stop writing. I wish I’d never told him that. So I don’t know. I teach literature. That’s easy for me. Take someone else’s work and talk about it.

You can find the full interview here.

Did you study creative writing and how has it helped you as a writer?

Samir

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6 thoughts on “Achebe on Creative Writing

  1. I studied it. It made me a much better teacher of writing, and even though I had always loved literature, it gave me an understanding of why I loved it. Quite often, we know we love to read but putting why firmly into words is harder. I don’t believe talent is taught but if a writer wants to improve, they need to study great writing. That’s what we did in the writing program.

    1. Sounds like a positive experience. I have to agree, talent cannot be taught but craft can be improved through hard work and discipline.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I think if creative writing is taught then it should be in a manner which opens the students mind to new ideas. Helps them recognise and break out of their own box, not create an even smaller box to crawl in. A good creative writing teacher should be able to inspire confidence. For some people it will work, for others it won’t.

    1. That makes a lot of sense. Ultimately a teacher should bring out the potential in a student and let them be independent thinkers… or creators. Realizing that one has the potential within oneself is the best confidence booster.

  3. Interesting. I find reading about creative writing more tolerable than listening to live lectures. Whether it makes a difference in the value of writing I don’t know. But there’s one thing I know. UnLike every other lecture, creative writing needs to be taught with great care. If care isn’t taken you can silence several voices for life.

    1. I hear you. I actually saw people cringe when they received feedback once in a workshop… not even a lecture. It’s almost like toying with people’s fantasy – scary stuff.

      I suppose anyone can read every writing book out there or attend all kinds of lectures or workshops, but in the end, it’s all about action: writing, writing and more writing. The only way to learn a craft is by doing it over and over.

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