The futile attempt of teaching creativity

WilliamRouf8-26I was aware that a bachelor’s degree in English was consistently on many lists of the top ten useless degrees a college student could pursue long before I began applying for colleges. I’ve always thought the list-makers were wrong. I still do. I’m a sophomore studying English with a concentration in creative writing, and here, on the Tempe campus, just like all over the world, when English majors reveal their course of study to others on campus, we often have to deal with strings of dumb questions like, “Oh, so you want to be unemployed?” or are treated to constructive input such as, “You should reconsider. Do something that involves computers.”

However, there is one question that has intrigued me: "How can you teach creativity?"

Although I am perfectly confident in my choice of major, there is some credence to that criticism. Upon entering ENG 287, a beginning poetry workshop, I was worried that I would find it hard to “learn” how to be creative. I soon found out, however, that creativity, no matter where you study, will not be taught to you — not in life, and certainly not in the classroom. The most comforting part of my particular class was that the professors seemed to make this point clear without even stating it. They just simply had no way of teaching one to be creative. To see this is true, we must only realize that something “creative” is original in nature, so providing tips on how to write creatively is a waste, because they will breed nothing original. They will produce lackluster copies. This is not to say that writers can’t be creative, because others influenced them; there is a big difference between admiring other writers and trying to do what they did with their work.

Even though creative writing courses can’t “teach” creativity, they still have merit to them. In fact, I can’t think of many subjects more crucial to education as a whole. We all need to learn how to write, correct? Good thing we have English courses. We all read novels during school (or are supposed to), right? Well, at least we have teachers at all levels who studied literature, and know the “Great American novels” like the back of their hand.

Personally, one of the most important things they provide for me is a deadline. Having someone tell me that I must turn something in by a certain time is a constant reminder that inspiration rarely strikes when you need it too, and that other methods, such as spontaneity or compression, often produce much better work. It also provides in-depth training on form, which may not be of much use to me in my own writing, but allows me to understand what other writers have done in the past, and the reasoning behind their methods, so that when I sit down with a pen and a piece of paper, I can remind myself that I’m not Bill Shakespeare or Walt Whitman. I can admire them because they were truly creative, but I cannot try to be them. Instead, I have to find my own creativity.

Reach the columnist at or follow him on Twitter @willruof

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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