But… if I have to hunt for a topic… if I’ve gotten a text from the Muse saying she’s busy this afternoon and won’t be stopping by, sorry… well, any writer who’s ever sought inspiration (read: every writer ever, at least of woman born --- come to think of it, even a few who weren’t --- yes, I mean you, Macduff, you scallywag) will tell you it’s an agonizing process. To paraphrase James Branch Cabell, you are pregnant with words, and must have lexicological parturition, or you die… but that baby is just adamant it ain’t comin’ now, or any time soon, either. It’s stuck… rather like Pooh trying to exit Rabbit’s house after that small smackerel which really wasn’t small.
What do you do in that situation? you ask. Well, personally, I look about me for inspiration. Things I’ve done in the last week. Places I’ve been. People I’ve met. Things I’ve said, or heard. Even, God help us, posts on social media…
…like one I just saw: a Tweet asking if you need a Master’s degree in Creative Writing (presumably to be a successful writer, although the Tweet didn’t specify that). Aha! That’s enough to fire up the creative juices, so here we go…
(You just took 370 words to get to your actual topic? some of you ask disbelievingly. Yep. Sure did. My pulpit, my rules. Nobody’s forcing you to read this, are they? Besides, I’m reminded of Russell Crowe’s character in the film Gladiator as he shouts to the crowd: “Are you not entertained?!”)
So. Master’s degree in Creative Writing: aye or nay? Well, perhaps the simplest way to explain this is to relate the explanation comedian Don Harron provided about academic qualifications years ago, one that’s long stuck with me because there are times I think there’s much truth to it: “First, you have your BS, and we all know what that means. Then you have your MS, which means More of the Same. Finally, you have your PhD, which means Piled Higher ‘n Deeper.”
(I have to be careful here, because my own niece recently earned her Master’s in Creative Writing. Which, I swear, had absolutely nothing to do with today’s post. So, if she ever reads this: my dear, I am not disparaging your achievement. Not at all. Will it stand you in good stead? I’m sure of it. Will it, on its own, make you a world-class writer? Hmm, doubtful. And I think you’d agree. We should discuss it sometime…)
Now, lest you think me some raving anti-intellectual crank, let me reassure you on that immediately. As the long-time holder of two undergrad university degrees, and a career secondary school educator (“34 and a half years, and I’ve the scars to prove it,” he muttered creakily), I’m all in favour of academic qualifications. What I’m less enamoured with is the way our society tends to tout them as the be-all and end-all for success. Particularly in any field relying on a personal gift of brilliance to do well --- which is to say, any field more demanding than running groceries through a checkout scanner.
Most employers tend to do this. Oh, yes, they say, you must have a Master’s degree to be a (fill in the position here). Which is all well and good, I suppose, but I’ve known hell’s own herd of turkeys with Master’s degrees possessing absolutely no leadership or organizational skills at all. No ability to see both the broad vision and the details required to attain it.
Folks, academic qualifications are absolutely necessary to provide validation that the person holding them has been exposed to certain basic standards and has demonstrated the capacity to meet those standards. And that’s a good and needful thing. (Although modern education seems determined to wilfully destroy those standards, and believe me, I know whereof I speak. But that’s a whole other discussion for another time. Once I’ve retired. Which will be soon.)
But it doesn’t mean the person will be brilliant at what they do. My BEd degree implicitly stated I had the qualifications required to be a teacher, according to broadly defined standards; it didn’t necessarily mean I was going to be a great teacher (although I hope my students might think I am, bless their hormonal little hearts). Because you can’t teach greatness: it’s either there, or it isn’t. Oh, you can teach people to be competent at what they do, by and large. But you can’t teach them to be truly great. That relies on an inner spark and an inner gift beyond the capacity of humans to bestow in any sort of classroom. Sure, that spark can be fanned and nurtured --- that’s what great teachers do --- but it can’t be created where it doesn’t exist. So let’s stop pretending it can.
Returning to my original question: Master’s in Creative Writing, aye or nay… well, how about a very definite noncommittal shrug? Followed by: sure, if you want to. Just don’t do it thinking it will make you the next Tolkien, Rowling, Dickens, or Shakespeare.
‘Cause it doesn’t work like that.
Never has. Never will.