It’s quite simple: we need to write more.
By that I mean, we need to write more creatively. More fiction. More imaginative nonfiction. More poetry. More plays and screenplays and metafictions. More of the words.
As it stands, we are increasingly becoming a society that marginalises creativity. It’s not valued economically as a profession – as an immeasurably quantity, policies and salaries and superannuation schemes don’t fit the model judging whether creative writing is any good.
In most professions, one simply needs to turn up, do the job and go home. Do enough to not get sacked, enough to perform adequately, but not enough so that it affects what’s really important: the life outside of the job. If someone wants to be a writer, there’s no interview, no key selection criteria, and no sick leave or holiday pay once you get the job.
In fact, the only way of getting the job is to write, and even then, that doesn’t guarantee it. At the risk of generalising, a ‘normal’ profession requires an applicant to be accepted into the fold by others proficient at that profession. Doctors, lawyers, police, plumbers, carpenters – one applies to the body of the profession and asks, ever so politely, ‘Let me in!’ But those wanting a profession in creativity, we are reliant on the others, the unrelated, the audience – as it were – to let us in. Thereafter, they do not annually review us, or grant us our holidays, or overtime, or work-related expenses. There’s no HR. The work is created in the ether, in the neverworld of imagination that seeks to only be let in, to be read or seen or witnessed, but if it’s not then it’s over. One cannot simply do the job and then go home.
To write for a living is to be performance reviewed by those who have no connection to your profession.
None of this is new, and none of it is to change any time soon. Really, the job is done by the time we’re adults. Can’t change a system already in motion. So what to do then? Go back to the beginning and create a society that values these things? If there is value, conscious or unconscious, then there is worth in the job.
To return to the beginning: we need to write more, and we need to make others write.
Most primary school education has a fairly well-developed insistence on creative writing. Most. By the time the population hits secondary school the insistence becomes more of a request. And then an option. And then a footnote. A marginalised footnote that has no value.
Fifteen years ago, one of the most important assessments for a Year 12 student in Victoria was a creative writing folio. In 2013, it doesn’t exist. What does exist is an endless procession of expository essays and analyses, observing and dismantling texts, but never creating them. There is an option, though, for a student to partake in a creative writing task. It is, however, judged alongside non-creative tasks. Judged against the same criteria. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that these creative texts are written blind, with no foreknowledge of the prompt, and in set conditions with no chance of drafting or following a normal written process.
This is the problem:
- Curriculum place no value in creative writing as an aspect of education
- When it is included, it is judged against irrelevant or inappropriate criteria
- Those teaching it, assessing it, and implementing it are rarely those trained to do so
This final point is important. Most secondary English teachers aren’t trained to teach creative writing, and the criteria it is then assessed on is focused too much on the fundamentals of language (spelling, grammar, and so on) rather than the fundamentals of a good imagination. I’d hazard that even less English teachers actively pursue creative writing in the way they might expect their students to.
With the rise of standardised testing in Australian education, schools have become increasingly concerned with measurable outcomes, and measurable commodities. Creative pursuits are thus placed at risk, and diminished. In the same way that I spoke about with reading, if we want writing to be valued – or any creative profession – not just casually or through awards or prizes or notable mentions in the Arts section of a media outlet, but to be truly valued we need to model that value. We need to show the future generations of society that we see importance in this, as a viable profession, as something financially and respectfully acknowledged as an adult pursuit. As a parallel, Finland introduced state pensions that acknowledged the difficulty of most authors to call writing their profession based on income, and Norway brought about sweeping reforms to reinvigorate its literary scene, including the idea that the state would purchase 1000 copies of each new book, provided it met minimum standards. These copies would then be distributed to schools and libraries, and ensure the continuity of the author.
Writing needs to not be a marginal profession. It needs to not be judged by standards that anticipate failure, and judged by those not qualified to differentiate between failure and success. Creative writing should be the pinnacle of English education far ahead of endless essays picking apart books for perceived meaning, because surely we should all want to contribute and participate rather than observe and dismantle?
We should all write, and encourage our children to write, and our students, and our future selves. It can only add to the value of our lives, and not leave us picking through the carcass of what little value we place in the profession of writing.