Why bother with Creative Writing workshops and courses?

Anyone who’s attended a Creative Writing class or workshop, or who has studied Creative Writing at any level, will have been asked the following question at least once: “Can you teach/be taught Creative Writing?”

Here’s what I say in response:

It isn’t so much about teaching as about being immersed in a writing community for a few hours every week.  It’s about being with people who care about books, who read and like books.  It’s about being with people who want to talk about the subject matter of a story or poem and about how it was written; how the writing has provoked a response in them, as readers.

I suppose you could say it’s about learning to read as well as about learning to write.  It’s about sharing.

In the writing workshops I teach, after we’ve talked about a poem or story, I ask the students to have a go at writing something, sometimes stealing a first line, or using the same subject matter or borrowing the technique that’s been employed.

Most people leave my workshops with several new poems or stories started.  I’m always thrilled to hear and read the different responses to my writing prompts.  I love being startled by other people’s imaginations.

I enjoy attending Writing courses and workshops, myself.  In the early 1990s I spent five years at university writing scripts, stories and poems in order to complete Creative Writing assignments for an English degree and an MA in Creative Writing.  I had wonderful teachers, among them the writers Alison MacLeod, Vicki Feaver, Eva Hoffman, Hugh Dunkerley, John Saunders and Andrew Motion.

I also learned from other students on my various courses, some of them now acclaimed writers themselves (but no more name dropping).

We read and commented on each other’s work.  “I liked how you wrote that because……”   “I didn’t get that. I didn’t understand that – what were you trying to say?” and having to explain, having to articulate the nub of my idea, opened up a clearer, better way of writing something.

In the classes I teach now I find students splintering into smaller groups or pairs to talk about their writing or about something they’re reading.  Sometimes they make friends, even if it’s just for the afternoon.  This is what I mean by a writing community.

I still attend courses and workshops when I can.  In 2010 I was pleased to be a runner-up in the Poetry category of the Bridport Prize.  Michael Laskey, the Poetry Judge, was running a two hour workshop before the prize giving ceremony and lunch so I duly signed up.  It was lovely to meet Jennifer Olds, another Poetry runner-up, and Miranda McLeod, joint First Prize winner in the Flash Fiction category, who’d also enlisted for Michael’s workshop.  Both Miranda and Jennifer teach Creative Writing at American universities.

As well as reading many poems, some freshly published in poetry magazines, we all left with a clutch of new ideas, new lines, new words for our own poems.  And new material for weaving into the courses we were teaching at the time.

Recently one of my students said that he was going to start a writing poetry group at a youth club he’d become attached to.  He was going to use some of my writing prompts in the sessions.

Writing is about sharing.


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