Because I have a part time fellowship at a Scottish University, I work with a number of students who are doing creative writing courses of one kind or another - in this case it's mostly people who are writing plays or film scripts. I know there's a great deal of discussion about the validity or otherwise of so called 'creative practice' degrees and it's a debate I don't really want to get into here. Or should that be a can of worms I'm not too anxious to open? On the one hand I have reservations. On the other hand, if such a course had been available when I was starting out, I would probably have done it and enjoyed it and found it useful. But there is one element in all this that both intrigues and worries me and a conversation with an artist friend last week only confirmed my reservations. We both realised that we had found ourselves saying exactly the same thing to students - about scripts and about artworks. 'Play about. Enjoy it. Play with the ideas in it and see what happens!'
That word 'play' is so important to the creative process. You come up with an idea, you work on it and then you play about with it, question it, experiment with it, see where it takes you. Above all, you enjoy the process. You never just see it as a means to an end. The process of getting there is at least as important as the end product; the absolute absorption in the moment that is one of the joys of all creative activities.
But all of that seems to be in conflict with the aims of modern university courses which are mostly to do with getting somewhere, getting something, and ultimately getting a job, rather than learning for its own sake.
Which is all very well, I suppose, for vocational courses: accountancy, dentistry, medicine.
But creative writing? Art?
So when confronted with an anxious student who is agonising over a script I find myself wondering how to reconcile this idea of creative play with the demands of modules and courses.
I suspect there is no real resolution. More of this later.