Write On- Are Writing Classes a waste of time?

Photograph of the authors desk, susan sheldon nolenI suppose everyone has read about the writing class blast that Novelist Hanif Kureishi hurled  – as a waste of time– saying he would never go on one despite teaching a writing course.  He informed the audience at the Literary Festival that the fundamentals of storytelling cannot be taught.

I have to agree. I believe we are all natural-born story tellers. Some are just better than others. Some have more talent from it. No teaching needed there, however we all can benefit from good tutoring and guidance.

But I think he did not do himself a favour by saying-storytelling. What he was actually talking about was novelists, starting a story, and floundering in the middle. Something that can be corrected with the usage of an outline. Now if you have never written a novel, and it is your first, the benefit of using an outline/ synopsis might never come across your path. But with a good tutor this can be highlighted.  He goes on to say, “I can’t give them talent but I can say to them: ‘Look, if you do that, you’re going to waste a lot of time.”

That doesn’t sound like a waste of time to me!

I’ve taken a Guardian Master Class in writing a synopsis and even though I was frustrated that there wasn’t balance in the class, (some only had an idea for a novel, others had finished their novel) It still was a worthwhile experience. The tutor that time was Rowan Coleman, who managed to pull this collection of different writing levels together. (I had my novel finished- (pre-publication finished that is…still needing professional editing.)

I wanted to learn how to write a decent synopsis for agents, but I came away from that class learning the value of having a synopsis by my desk for more complex projects. ( My next writing project will have that done first!)


I also took a writing class at Faber and Faber. This was brilliant and I managed to hammer out  my chapter one, which had frustrated me for quite a while.

Writing is a lonely business.  But with the right writing class you can meet peers, fellow writers, and possibly solve that tricky problem that you can’t  iron out on your own.   If you are extremely lucky you’ll end up with some new friends- like my Literary Ladies, and meet at the pub to go over class notes with a pint or two! ( Girl’s, you know who you are!)

There are some classes worthwhile that do teach you the subtle art of story telling, and then there are some classes that are a colossal waste of time and will teach you only how to waste money. The trick to finding the right course is recommendation, and that comes from other writers on that course.

For me, I will take more classes from Faber and Faber, and from the Guardian Master Classes, just after I finish this Oxford Writing thing…


Any questions about Faber and Faber, or the Guardian Master Class, just give me a shout!


About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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8 Responses to Write On- Are Writing Classes a waste of time?

  1. I too struggle with writing classes, Susan. It’s hard to find really great ones. The last class I attended was more an advertisement for the teacher than anything else.

  2. What a shame. I lucked out with these two courses. The focus was on topic and with Faber and Faber I was really impressed with the control of the class. No one got to ” hog” the floor, so to speak. Gosh…better luck next time!

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    I think anything that allows us a chance to improve our technique is worthwhile, however, I tend to read books on the craft rather than take writing classes (that whole introvert thing, I guess). I’ve only been to one writing conference, but that was a great experience, too.

  4. I think classes (for anything…be it writing or yoga) allow you to learn from peers and observation even if the instructor or set-up falls short of expectations. It’s never a complete waste of time!

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