The creative writing industry is growing and thriving in India and abroad. This has sparked the debate about whether creative writing can be taught. Is it a talent you naturally possess or a skill you must acquire? Amidst the pandemic, several organizations like us have taken their operations online to mentor and build budding writers. Read as our editors and mentors Tara Khandelwal, Michelle D’costa, Rheea Mukherjee and Tashan Mehta weigh in on the debate.
Tara Khandelwal: Every art form can be taught. It has its own rules and it’s important to understand the basics before going ahead and experimenting with form and structure. Talent and hard work pushes you over the edge but understanding the basics is important. So yes I do think that creative writing can be taught and I also think the role of the editor is really interesting because oftentimes the editor will go beyond the basics. It is a collaboration with the writer and that’s the part that I enjoy the most. As the founder of Bound, I was really intrigued by the idea of teaching and providing skill building for creative professionals because I believe with a good foundation you can then go ahead and create something really interesting. Often it is counter-intuitive that people think that writing is just stream of consciousness and sure you can learn by doing but there is no harm in having a solid backing and foundation to help you build your skills.
Michelle D’costa: I think every aspiring writer requires a supportive infrastructure to hone their writing, whether it is learning the technical skills of the craft or cultivating a mindset to be receptive to peer feedback. I think writing workshops and classes really help in creating an atmosphere for writing in your life, like not just a writing discipline but it also shows you what you can do right and where you can go wrong. By getting guidance from established writers on what you can do better, you can save your time and you can achieve your dream rather than struggling on your own. Writing is an isolating task in itself, so discussing your work with people, figuring out what processes work for you really helps and I can say that because I am a writer myself and I do not know where I would have been if I didn’t have beta readers and mentors.
Rheea Mukherjee: When it comes to ‘teaching’ creative writing, I think it’s a space where we can bring attention and presence to craft. Understanding how our creativity can be channelled into tighter narratives while also understanding that while we can study all the rules, the pursuit of original writing comes from breaking some of them. My classes focus on how we all teach each other things and reveal perspectives that usually don’t come to light unless we’re sitting in a class being vulnerable and hungry to learn and unlearn together.
Tashan Mehta: I’ve always been a firm proponent of the idea that creative writing can’t be taught; not because it’s some magical and mysterious craft but because it’s so unique to the creator that any course or workshop runs the risk of limiting what is possible. Yet I’ve been a student of creative writing myself and later in my career, mentor, and I’ve been privileged to see how the act of simply coming together to learn what deeply matters to us can create far-reaching transformations. It’s not just about the fellow writers you meet or what you learn about the craft. It’s an act of simply sitting together and pouring attention into a practice that’s intrinsically human – a practice of self-expression and communication, of singularity and togetherness – that creates something wondrous.
For the past two years at Bound, we have been conducting writing retreats that focus on creating writing communities and forming lasting connections. This year we decided to take the retreat virtual and are pleased to present the first Bound Virtual Writers’ Retreat. The retreat is not meant to teach you to write but to create an environment that stimulates and facilitates your writing process. Guided mentorship and peer feedback allow you to evolve as a writer. We work with small batches of just 12 writers who are chosen according to who we think will benefit the most out of the experience. Through immersive and intensive workshops spread over weeks, we work together to take a manuscript from ideation to completion. For more details on the retreat and to apply click here.