Interview with Fred Shafer, esteemed writing teacher and editor

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For Off Campus Writers Workshop’s a new online column devoted to writing: ABOUT WRITE, I was delighted to interview Fred Shafer, the esteemed writing teacher and editor, who has opened each new OCWW season for thirty-six years.

Fred Shafer and Lynn Sloan

Can writing be taught? This is a trick question. The subject is actively debated, but obviously, you believe it can.

Yes, having seen countless people give themselves to the process over the years, I’m convinced that fiction writing can be taught. Does that mean that everyone is capable of learning to write fiction? I’d like to think so, but I’ve learned that there are some qualities that the people who form a commitment to writing fiction tend to share: an enjoyment of reading short stories and novels, a deep interest in other people’s lives, and a willingness to learn. Apart from those qualities, I haven’t found that one background is more conducive than others to writing fiction. I’ve had conversations with other teachers and writers about whether it’s possible to recognize, as early as the first day of class, which students will stay committed to fiction writing, and my answer is no.  Each person needs to find her own level of comfort with the process, and because there are so many differences between fiction and other forms of writing, it may take time. Rarely is everyone in a class or workshop learning at the same pace, and to draw conclusions from the pace set by a new writer can be very misleading.