Hoary old chestnut. Or whory old chestnut, perhaps, as CW is the current cash-cow of the writing world.
I've always said creative writing can't be taught, so why am I spending seven weeks supposedly teaching it to a group of high-flying foreign undergraduates who have paid $nK to spend the summer at Cambridge University? Whoring? No. Because although I don't think it can be taught, I believe it can be learned. I don't intend to teach them anything, I just intend to help them to learn it.
What's the difference? There is a BIG difference.
I can teach you to use PowerPoint - it is very easy. (Really, it is.) Because it is the same for everyone - the things you need to do to make a new page, add a picture, draw lines, bla bla, are set in stone. All you have to do is follow the instructions. 100% guaranteed.
The same isn't true of creative writing. I can't teach you to write a novel/short story/picture book by giving a sequence of numbered steps that will definitely, 100% certainly, lead you to produce a book. Or not unless you count 'sit down and write the damn thing' as a useful instruction.
About as far as you can go teaching writing by the formulaic,
PowerPoint-instructions method is: write down the subject; write down a
verb; write down an object, possibly. Add an adverb between the subject
and the verb if you really want to. Add an adjective before either or both of the object and subject if you really want to. Remember to use a capital letter at the
start and a full stop at the end. It still might not make sense: Blue dinosaur painfully dived the cake. Nope - can't even get a meaningful
sentence. Not foolproof, like 'click the New Slide button'.
Ah, you may say - we can teach someone to make a PowerPoint presentation, but it won't necessarily be any good. They need other skills for that: they need to know a bit about design, and about information design, and how people absorb information, in order to make an attractive and effective PowerPoint presentation. And that's true. Ditto creative writing - even if we tell people the principles of developing characters, plot, and setting, showing-and-not-telling, avoiding cliches like the plague and ruthlessly excising adverbs, they need some kind of insight and imagination in order to write something that jumps off the page.
So we have to help people to learn writing instead of attempting to teach them. Let them try first. Maybe give a few hints of things to think about, if your teaching model means you have to do lectures and seminars. Otherwise, let them write something and then explore with them why and how it works, why and how it doesn't work. This can be on all levels - why that sentence is ungrammatical, or why the structure doesn't suit their stated aims. I don't tell people what to do if I can avoid it. I ask them questions and challenge their answers. I force them to defend what they have done, or recant. I make them think of other ways of doing things, and ask whether that would be better or worse, how it would be different. If they can't see ways, I make suggestions. But I'd rather they worked it out for themselves.
This method takes a lot of time. It has to be done one-to-one, and it can feel brutal. But I won't tell them answers, I will only help them discover answers - because then the answers mean something to to them; they own the answers, they have invested in them, they believe in them, and they are answers that work for them. If at the end I don't agree with the solution they have reached, I will say so and explain why. But more often they will come up with something that is at least worth trying. I think this is how it has to be. Once they are out in the big, wide world trying to make a living from writing, no one will be there telling them what to do. They will have to know the questions to ask of themselves and their work in order to improve it, not follow a formula or run and ask someone else.
So that's why, students, I am going to harangue you and badger you and not tell you the 'answer'. It's your job to learn, and my job to beat you until you do. I'm not being paid to teach you.