Thursday, 11 December 2008

Sharing the journey with students

Do you write along with your students when you set exercises? I do sometimes. Rather than stay aloof and teachery I plunge in. Obviously, it shows students that I'm on the writing journey with them. Even better -- sometimes the exercises actually help me on current writing.

Example: I have just completed teaching a Novel in a Month course and joined students in the 45 mins daily uncritical writing that makes the process work. Delighted to say that I ended up with 27,000 words. The goal was 50,000 so it was a demo that it's okay to miss goals. Also, I shared my agonies over the first 2 days of horrible blank-page rubbish with my fellow writers. No one made it to 50K, but several produced bigger wordcounts than mine. It's not a competition, I remind us. The course is based on the principles of a website of international madness-of-noveling.

Other example: Also just finished teaching Writer's Journey/Hero's Journey, and used two of the exercises to explore and deepen the protagonist who presented herself in the above-mentioned Niamo course. Synergy!

Ending the term with a flourish -- former long-time student Mike Gordon came to class to talk a bit about his handsomely self-published novel, Tracks. It's a techno-thriller, action-packed, with loads of characters. See Good for him, good for me, good for the class of new writers to see. And off to the pub afterwards for cheers.

That's it from me for this term... tune in 2nd week of January 2009 when education wakes up again.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Why do we write?

Pleased to say that InTuition, the quarterly magazine of the Institute for Learning, has run my response in its Ask the Experts feature. In the autumn edition a college art lecturer said students asked 'why do we draw?' And thinking of our own students I was moved to respond: creative writing students don't ask 'why do we write?' except when groaning over procastination. But I know that they write for the same reason students draw. To draw, to write, to make, is to capture something. It is about process, not end product -- except for commercial art or copywriting or journalism.

This art-making may express some aspect of the inner self the artist didn't even know was there. The satisfaction is in the process of discovery. The result displays the maker's voice, a unique angle on the world.

Another reason people make art is to assuage the essential loneliness of being human -- if I reach out in paint or words and you respond to my work, we have shared something, we have communicated, even if we never meet. Maybe only the artists themselves know why they create, and that knowledge can't be put into words. Why do we draw? Never mind. If we are impelled, we just do it.

Thanks to IfL for airing my views. It is the organisation all FE teachers have to register with these days as part of required professionalization (word??!!) of our kind of teaching. See my other IfL blog entries (gov't tutor registration) for more info and links. The current query asks how 'value added' works...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Writing students demand homework

Back to the present, as it were, my new pc, new server, new email address settling in. I hope. As I was saying, surprise, delight and demand came to me from students last week, in the form of requests for homework.

Maybe writing students have changed, or maybe I'm doing something differently. When I began teaching creative writing and asked students to bring in something done at home for the following class -- and planned a good 15 minutes to hear these and give feedback -- I was sorely disappointed. And left with an embarassing gap in my planned 2 hours.

I've learned since then how to fill sudden gaps (pairs talk on latest writing need etc; or a spot of reflective writing). Still learning: how to give homework on demand.

One class has a lot of new-to-creative writers, new to classes too. Very shy of reading out. So I devised a takeaway sheet with a dozen or so possible scenes, situations or monologues to choose from. These jump off from information and exercises covered so far in class.

For my other class, more advanced and deep into their own pieces, I created '8 Days a Week' -- an envelope for each writer containing 8 slips of paper. Each slip has a starting phrase or a situation, very simple and sketchy because the writers are in completely individual worlds and stages of their work in hand. Instructions: to be used Only for Stuckness. They should really endure and overcome the blank page freeze syndrome for themselves... but I've softened and provided an emergency escape.

If anyone out there wants to know the Homework Sheet Choices or Stuckness Prompts, contact me via comments.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Writing students demand homework!

argh! Blogging, internet wobblies and changing email address has done me in. See you next week.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The size & timing of creative writing

Wow. Started my 5-week Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey course last week, enrolled to the max of 19, with 3 others who turned up. First of all there's Health & Safety, and more than that: rather a lot to teach such a subjective, experiential discipline. But then, I asked for it.

I ran the same course in spring in the afternoons and it drew only 6 people; worse, the summer school repeat had not enough to run. So I proposed to Team Leader that we try evenings. And there you have it, with wings. So much of adult ed is the right time for the right subject for the right market. To bear in mind when pitching your ideas and slots.

These days, too, I think short courses are the way to go -- less commitment for new and/or busy people, and less costly. Of course less money for you; but then more time for your writing.

How to handle such a big group? The course is not planned for workshopping so no one is expecting to read out and get feedback. My plan in any case was to do several exercises per session, some very reflective or brainstormy, thus not suitable for reading out. However, it is nice to hear some work, pour encourager les autres. And, interestingly, the majority are beginners, new to creative writing classes.

So: I will put them in pairs to share some writing done in the session; or even just to talk about it. This gentles newbies into reading out and, just as important, creates supportive bonds of friendliness.

But I will ask for volunteers and hope I get one or two next time, when we advance to Obstacles & Allies.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

KISS in substituting

Recently I substitute taught a general creative writing and workshopping class for a mate. I used some of the Present Tense material I'd successfully used (see recent past blogs). The session went fine... or fine enough. It was satisfactory, and what more should you expect, coming in cold to an existing formed class? But I love the feel of a really good session, and I missed that feeling. So I have come up with two lessons learned for myself when substituting.

1) Keep It Simple, Stupid. The class was of mixed experience and level and my exercise was multi-staged, designed for my group of known experienced writers. It worked for some of these unknown students, but left others flat. It was too complex. So: don't be tricky. When subsituting, do a simple inspiration stimulus, a word, phrase or story question. Or rely on the treat of writing from picture postcards or from objects from a Serendipity Bag.

2) Always write out a lesson plan and a sheet of tutor prompts for each stage of the session. I was a bit blithe about planning, thinking I'd remember all the stages of that exercise. I'd brought my Matrix book to use as prompt to the stages, but then didn't pick it up and use it -- it feels unnatural to teach direct from a book, even when it is my own! Instead, I should have done what I always do: scrawl on A4 sheets the steps and prompts when prepping each session.

By prepping in writing, my psychic energy, passion and voice go from me, to my pen, to the page of session plan and notes and then out to the students with confidence, authority, conviction and fun, because the lesson has become part of me. I have become the message. The opposite of this is flabby, lazy, didactic or droning teaching. From me, anyway.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


Sorry, my pc has completely died, and access to my blog dashboard is via the husband's mac, unfamiliar to me. So watch this space next week: I'll be back.

Meanwhile, you will find a complete exercise and a tutor tip on my website. They are extracts from The Matrix book, and I change these termly. Link to Paxton Publishing to the right.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

'Champagne Method' of writing

I'm hooked on reading the lives and letters of artists and writers, finding inspiration and comfort in their struggles and strategies. Also, sometimes, quotes and exercise ideas for my students.

Letters of Ted Hughes, selected and edited by Christopher Reid (Faber and Faber, 2007), is a fascinating read and includes some useful support for aspiring writers. See the book for yourself; by way of review, and to tempt you, here's a bit of his 'Champagne Method' (pp 314-5).

It seems that back in 1971 he and a friend devised for mutual friend Irish poet Richard Murphy a list of exercises as a stimulus to his writing. Penalties and rewards were to be paid in champagne. Murphy recounts this in his memoir, The Kick (Granta, 1993). There are 15 items on the list; here are 5, and the instructions from Hughes:

All considered only as starting points--Also, each exercise to cover 3 pages in order to make a habit of flow & release. Also, under Beethoven's dictum to pupils: "Never mind the wrong notes--go through to the end." Very good dictum as dicta go.
  • A congregation of gulls, storm petrels, seals -- the text, the service
  • The voice in the well
  • The Saint's curse on desecrators
  • Fifty metaphors of High Island [choose some other place you & your students all know]
  • High Island considered as a woman

So give it a go! Up to you to devise the rewards and penalties -- and to lay in the champagne (or maybe cava, these days).

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Techno ups & professional bodies

The good news: I updated the Paxton website, providing, as I have promised, a new exercise and a new tutor tip for this term. Have a peek, they're on the 'Sample Inside' page. Well, my version of sample inside.

Professional bodies --

If you teach in LSC-funded further and community education remember that you should (have to?) become a member of the Institute for Learning (IfL). This is all about government initiative to improve standards of teaching in the long overlooked FE sector. See my January blogs about it (though membership deadlines have changed since then), and go to There's a nifty quarterly magazine that comes with membership.

And you must see/join NAWE (National Association of Writers in Education) It is directly up our street: writing and teaching writing. As usual, lots for schools primary and secondary. For HE too, somewhat. And there is attention to community and adult teaching of creative writing too. There's a big Resources Database listing, and well set-out announcements of events, such as the recent day of seminars for teachers wanting creative writing input, with Fay Weldon as keynote speaker. It was at Brunel University, organised by Celia Brayfield.

In mid-November NAWE's conference in Manchester offers fascinating multiple choices of seminars, among them The Pulling Power of Poetry, Guerilla Writing in Academia, Teaching Storytelling in Uganda's Refugee Camps, Teaching the Short Story...

Techno ups continued: On the Paxton site I changed the final page to be clearer about how to buy the book, now that it is selling via the website. I am even getting orders from bookshops; they have to order through Nielsen. But it means the customer has to pay £14 instead of the direct-from-author £10.
Tehno downs: just plugged in a new monitor and am going cross-eyed -- how do I get the resolution right!!!!?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Present tense

Is v Was... fascinating session with my advanced class on using present tense in fiction. I began with brief readings out from a selection of books written in present tense that I'd recently read, with discussion of various points along the way:
  • Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (Peter Hoeg)
  • The Resurrectionist (James Bradley)
  • When I Lived in Modern Times (Linda Grant)
  • The Sportswriter (Richard Ford)
  • And one in traditional past tense, Burning Bright (Tracy Chevalier)

It quickly became apparent that the challenge is how to get the past of the story told while being in the present on-going story. Gap-on-the-page or new chapter and shift into past tense are trad methods. Interwoven past and present is masterful and technically tricky, and effective.

I chose two small 'shift' sections from The Sportswriter and we modelled these, sticking to the sentence structures and tenses, but swapping in our own invented characters, actions, places, feelings. We surprised ourselves with the power of our little pieces -- nothing like walking in the shoes of a master, thank you Richard Ford.

The general conclusion was that past tense is best for good old storytelling, and present tense is edgey, tricky and sometimes downright annoying to read. Now on tense-alert, I've had two quotes along these lines sent by students:

  • Philip Pullman: 'the common mistake of thinking that using a present-tense narration conveys immediacy. It doesn't; it converys arty self-consciousness. It is a clanking, thumping, steaming cliche. There is far too much of it about...' (source unknown)
  • Philip Hensher: 'the odd and general belief that writing in the present, rather than the past, tense is somehow more vivid... Writing as vivid and localized as Motion's doesn't require this journalistic twist.' (Telegraph 20/09/08)

Don't want you to get tense about it, but what do you think?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Name games

[I'm back now from a week's travel in the splendid peaks and dales of England; returned to plunge into bowels of my computer due to connectivity problems. Apologies for delay, and thanks for the book orders.]

Of course you started your course by getting people to get to know each other, simply by pairing, or pairing with a mini-interview task or a discussion focus.

Here's another idea, not in the Matrix book: name mesostics. That's right, not acrostics (every first letter), but a puzzle poem made from words that pattern the name letters randomly. Like:


I learned about this word form via Alex Finlay on a visit to the Baltic art centre in Gateshead. It's not as easy as it looks!

For beginners, a straighforward acrostic, possibly only giving descriptions of themselves (even silly ones) would be the way to go. Getting to my mesostic took a bit of a think, a rough go, a break for a broody stage of dissatisfaction leading to an eventual mild eureka moment (eg class coffee break), and then revision. Caution your students who might lose confidence if it doesn't come perfect all at once -- it's an experience in the creative writing process.

Here in blogland, the arrangement is wobbly; in reality the letters of the name or key word line up in one vertical column. See for more on what the master is up to with the mesostic form.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Second session & still warming

[Preamble: Met some lovely teachers of creative writing at a Brunel conference Saturday; apologies to all trying to purchase the Matrix book this week -- I'm away in Peak District & York, will answer queries on my return 15 Sept -- Susan. Meanwhile, on with tutor tips blog...]

One week later, and the class still won't have fully gelled -- especially because, in adult education, newcomers continue to join in week 2 or even week 3. Unsettling to you and the class, but hey, that's adult ed for you.

So you did a questionnaire to keep 'em busy and suss 'em out last week. Here's a summary of one of my classes, which I incorporated into the content of the second session. Students themselves like to know about the group and it helps in the bonding process. Out of a class of about 12 (remembering that they could give 3 choices each, see last week's blog), the kinds of writing they wanted to work on were
  • Novels - 7
  • Short stories - 6
  • Memoir - 5
  • Feature articles - 3
  • Poetry - 2 (and those were as 2nd & 3rd choices)

So guess what's not going to feature very much in this course. There was also some demand for info on synopsis and letter-to-agent. You can tell that this is a pretty grown-up group. For beginners I'd take a sampling, but also set an agenda to guide them through a range of disciplines.

More on how I shaped the course to these needs as I go along. As for which exercises for these first few classes -- aha. See my book the Matrix? Or... one exercise per term for free on the

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Start of term

Welcome to Creative Writing class! Tutor _________ (your name).

It's always good to settle the first-day nerviness of your students by letting them know they are in the right classroom for the right class. Settles your nerves, too!

Besides writing a welcome note on the board I provide some busywork to fill up that awkward silence as you wait... and wait... for the stragglers to arrive. Soon you'll all know each other well, but meanwhile, I give out index cards to collect my own set of name-address-email and, much more interesting, a questionnaire.

More than mere busywork, a questionnaire starts the writers thinking about their individual pathways AND gives me information on how to tailor the course to this particular batch of writers. Bonus: I feed a summary back to the students (next class) so they know who they are, too. So here are some of the questions I put on an A4 handout questionnaire:

1. In order of priority, list the kinds of writing you prefer to do and would like to work on this year (for example: short story, novel, poetry, drama, memoire, feature articles etc). If you have equal priorities, adjust the list!

2. How long have you been writing, and how do you feel about your progress? Or, if you are brand new to creative writing, what prompts you to join the class?

3. Describe some of your writing needs and goals. How can this course help you?

4. Do you want to submit work for publication? Do you know where to submit?

5. List 2-3 favourite books or films you like.

Answers next week.
P.S. There still will be late-late arrivals to make the first session a bit bumpy.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Summer break for writing tutors

End of term, just about. Next week I'm among the guest speakers at my college's Creative Writing Event. I've been a screening judge of the student and local creative writing competition, and the main feature is the awarding of the prizes. Winners will read from their submissions in General Fiction, Poetry and Writing for Children. The dear college provides the pleasant venue and welcome glass of wine.

Guest panellists include local author (and tutor and writing coach), novelist Jacqui Lofthouse, and a Guardian journalist and writer. In my few minutes in the spotlight I'll praise all the writing students I've ever had -- how much energy and spirit we get from them, as well as give to them. They want to know about my Creative Writing: the Matrix book; and I might say a little about self (or small) publishing.

Then it is blog-holiday time until Tuesday 2nd September -- just as you are rousing yourself for the new term I'll be back with the blog for this tutoring-writing life. I will be furthering this novel-in-a- month I have been steaming through. And I'll use my cybertime to improve this blogspot with links to useful sites, and to create a slideshow on my more general-creativity susankerr blogspot of my trip to Nepal and India. See you in September!

PS I have just joined National Association of Writers in Education Suggest you have a look and do the same.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Setting goals for writers

After tackling the Inner Critic in last week's class -- we each even interviewed our own, Jeremy Paxman style -- we ended with that Waterstone's story-on-a-(large)-postcard competition. Some felt pleased enough to read out; I hope they entered them!

Of course these in-class quickies do not suit all writing students, and can't be counted on to produce anything useable. But sometimes the rush is just the trick for a nearly-finished little piece. Or the results are worth further development.

Speaking of competitions, don't forget the Bridport Prize, deadline 30th June. Not for the slap-dash entry, encourage all writers to polish, polish, polish their up-to 5000 words (or 42 lines of poetry). This has major prizes (1st = £5000), major judges (Helen Simpson, David Harsent) and gets serious publishing attention.

You can make a whole lesson, or series, out of competitions, analyzing their anthologies, determining the differences between 2000 word limits and 5000 word limits etc.

I usually issue a handout each term listing top competitions, heading it 'Set Your Goals'. Time to update it... watch this space.

Meanwhile, by the end of our Critic interviews most of us managed to get a grudging compliment from the monster.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Grrrrr: the critic within

Teaching tomorrow, the great gang of writers who have kept their own workshop going for two years. I'm doing 'Dealing with the Critic Within' this time; most of these writers have had that session, but hey, it was years ago. Besides, aren't we all, all the time, parrying our foe, the Inner Critic -- and he/she/it keeps cropping up in sneaky disguises. As a private class of long-time writers we have the luxury of time and experience, so I plan to take us right into the dialogue with the Critic, once identified. (Plug: it's in my book.)

H.A. Klauser's book, Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, (listed in last week's blog) is where I turned on to this amazingly helpful approach.

We'll also do a short bit of freewheeling writing from a prompt. And yesterday I spotted Waterstone's Tell Us Your Story competition, so I plucked a bunch of their postcard forms and with the help of two stimuli (character & setting) we'll have a go. Nothing like a deadline for spurring us on: it's the next day! For those who don't fancy flash fiction it'll just be a character-exploring exercise.

I'm having a whale of a time with Write a Novel in a Month -- complete and utter rubbish is spewing from my 3 x 15 minutes slabs per day. But at least it is spewing: oh, the joy of permission to write rubbish. Take THAT you 'ol Critic, you.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

How-to-write books as sources

Here are some of my favourite books for writers which I recommend to students. I've been inspired by them for myself, and adapted from them for class exercises -- and gained permissions and given thanks for this in my book of exercises for tutors. So if you want to grow your shelf, and yourself, have you seen:

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Shambhala, Boston, 1986.
Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser, HarperCollins, New York 1986.
Writing for Your Life by Deena Metzger, HarperSanFrancisco, New York, 1992.
Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novakovich, F+W Publications, Cincinnati, 1998.
The Weekend Novelist by Robert J Ray and Bret Norris, A&C Black, London 2005.

There are lots of other sources, including books, authors, poets and more in the bibliography at the back of Creative Writing: the Matrix.

I would like to add a links page to this blogspot, full of useful sites to creative teachers. If YOU have favourite creativity & creativity-teaching books or websites to share, do let me know by post-comment.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Writing a novel, writing poetry

What to do when you're not teaching? Write, of course. Or get some juice by becoming a writing student -- that's what I'm doing this week.

Write-a-novel-in-a-month course -- well, not really, but we can dream, and generate lots of rubbish writing to then edit into something. This is a jump in and swim class a colleague has been teaching for a while. I don't have a laptop though, and prefer creating in longhand anyway, so I expect writer's cramp will be a main result of the five session course.

The other is a Sunday afternoon poetry workshop taught by an established poet. I love mucking about with words and shaping them.

Don't forget the Bridport competition deadline 30 June

Helpless without pc... my email decided not to send anymore, so off we go to my little computer shop. I hope it won't take long, it is such a big part of everyday life.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Tutors together online

News, news of the network sort! Society of Authors Educational Writers Group features a whole week of Susan Lee Kerr in their May Blog-of-the-Month. Not this blog content directly, more of a round-up of a typical week of a teacher-writer-publisher-person. If you are an SoA member, once in the Members section you can go to EWG to see this, or previous month-blogs, from full-time educational books writers, editors and publishers (and some teach). Some are looking for writers -- interested?

Also: Keith Burnett, who teaches maths in an FE College, has publicized my weekly blog in his own He provides learning material samples at no charge on his site from time to time. He's also very keen on IT in teaching, and had an article Blogging about teaching in In Tuition, the magazine of the Institute for Learning. The idea is to encourage FE colleagues to use IT, including blogging -- especially about teaching their subject. Of course I contacted him and now we've done a titfer.

So if you have maths-IT colleagues, spread the word -- by internet, I guess. In Keith's article he lists several other post-16s teacher blogs. The one most relevant to our interests here is Chris Jackson's Skills for Life blog Definitely worth a look if this is your area; has lots of links. If you want to know more, do contact Keith at bodmas.

Brinkmanship, fell off the edge: alas Creative Non-Fiction enrolment is not enough to run the course. So that's 5 free Wednesday evenings from next week; at least I won't miss out on the final episodes of The Apprentice.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Writing endings

Yes, I know endings was last week with the advanced writers, but tomorrow is endings again, for my Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey crew, and the end of the 5-week course as well. I discovered I do have some further endings exercises and this will be fun.

First exercise: writing The End in the middle of the page. There, doesn't that feel good? Then we'll write an ending to a given (published) fiction beginning. Then move on to their own main characters developed during the course. We'll talk a bit about the difficulty writers can have in finishing a piece, not so much craft as reluctance to let go. Then it's good bye and good luck.

Just before that I'll give the antidote pep talk: I try to say often that 'writing by numbers' is not the point. They are to put all this in the back of their minds, not to try to slavishly follow the heroic archetype characters and narrative. Bear it in mind for stimulation or rewriting, but -- sorry folks -- there's no secret recipe or map. Just get on and write.

Admirably, my writing coach client is getting on and writing; we met today over our usual cappuccino amid the lovely May. So encouraging for both of us (the writing I mean; May too).

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Turning points & tying threads

Special moments or turning points, plus which threads need tying up/which don't at the end of the novel -- this is the challenge from my bespoke advanced writers group, to teach tomorrow.

Moments, now that's a good one. I've thought through and come up with Pinnacle, Earthquake, Clarification Moments, plus Historical Moments (less personal) and Triggers (not necessarily moment-experiences... but related). It's quite philosophical or fateful. What is a special moment, how do we recognise it, how create/find it? And then, how to use and place it in a work? Then of course, writing it.

I think we'll read out Ian McEwan's car crash near-miss from A Child in Time. And Stephen King has a snippet of good advice in his On Writing. We'll do some life-listing, some intense sense recall, some writing. And plenty of discussion.

As for endings -- anybody out there have good endings exercises to share? I have a few, but it's hard really... because you need all the stuff before in order to play with endings. So we will talk over 4 writers' comments on endings (Marshall, Gardner, McKee, Ray) and see what we all think. So much depends on the particular work in hand. Might play with Ray's 'chain of events' end-check and Cinderella to exercise ourselves re tying up threads.

As for Hero's Journey, episode 4 this week, Transformation of the Hero. They mostly have not seen Star Wars and my fav Disneys, but have seen Titanic, so I rewatched it on Saturday night. Okay, it's corny, cliched and spectacular, but it certainly is good story-telling. And loads of archetypal elements... does even Shakespeare use these? one student asked. Yes, m'am, have a look.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Teaching commitment

Laid low by a vicious chesty bug, I managed to teach two classes last week, but I’m sorry to have missed the blog.

The Tuesday was a simple 2-hour introduction to creative writing – one of a series in the route this institution is taking to attract new student-clients: it was FREE. Such is the state of ‘leisure’ adult education; a good ploy, I think – come and taste our wares. I wonder if it costs less/more than advertising and brochure distributions; and how do they measure effectiveness? Over to marketing.

Meanwhile, the maximum signed up, but fewer turned up. If they’d paid, would it have been the same? Nevertheless it was fun to be in a roomful of entirely new to creative writing adults. I had assumed the challenge that it could be a range of interests – short story, novel, non-fiction, children’s, not-really-sure, poetry – and I was right (nil poetry, however; nor plays, scripts, lyrics). Therefore I stuck to four of my basic writing process tools; did NOT ask them to read aloud to the group, but by the end had them share in pairs, 5 minutes each, and by this point they could choose from 3 little paras written during the session. I love that lively chatter of pair work. On leaving all seemed happy and interested in more... if they can fit it into their lives. Bon voyage!

Hero’s Journey/Writer’s Journey continues on Thursdays and guess what? My team leader asked me to do two runs of this for year 2008/9. Heavens! A year from now, talk about commitment. But commit I did. Repeating the course in November and post-Easter.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The hero wins

Yes! Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey short course will run, starting in two days, which means tomorrow will be full of sketching out the 5-week plan and detailing the outline for the first 2-hour class.

My main source book, by the way, is Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters (Boxtree 1996). It's very approachable and clear, though more film oriented than applies to my reading-on-the-page territory. I get back-up from loads of other myth-y books on my shelves including Jung and, of course, Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The trick, always, is to make up the exercises that get people not just learning 'about' archetypal characters and structure but also actually processing it -- by thinking and writing in class.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The brinkmanship of adult ed

Five working days to go and I'm several people below the minimum required to run my Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey short course. I love teaching this course as it hits all my personal buttons. I've devised both craft skills exercises and process-of-writing exercises using the full hero's quest framework. Touches a lot on Jungian archetypes so it is wonderfully, quickly, deep.

I've run it as a monthly full-day course, therefore have all the content plus useful feedback on what works well and what I could drop or tweak. But I need to have a detailed think re putting it into 5 weeks, 2 hours each class.

However, I will now put off the think session until the penultimate day when I hear from the college if the numbers allow. As writers-who-teach-creative-writing we have this dilemma: will I have five weeks of creative heroic questing or will I have five weeks of extra time to get on with my own writing.... ? (See column to right to link to course details.)

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

An established poet as guest tutor, free?

How about Monica Ali or Andrew Motion talking about poetry, or even Sylvia Plath, reading her own in your class? For free, and you don't have to book them?

I have just discovered (thanks to Society of Authors, The Author) Dozens of poets recorded reading their own work, and some, like Ali, Motion, Ted Hughes, exploring poetry, giving personal responses to poems, 'teaching' poetry. You'd need to have online facility in your teaching situation to use the sound aspect.

It's more poetry appreciation than writing it. But the 'For Teachers' section offers whole lesson plans and of course can be adapted. Inside this section I found a link to which is chock full of English teaching ideas, resources and online interactive 'Whizzy things'.

As usual these teaching sites are aimed at schools-teaching, not adults. However, materials at A-level and even GCSEs -- heck, even children! -- easily adaptable, or spring-boardable for us who teach adults.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The joy of progress

Fresh from my session as writing coach with an individual client. He's my first and only, as I wasn't sure whether I'd find this kind of one-on-one too demanding and involving.

When teaching a long course of 15 or so students I always schedule tutorials, and find it hard to limit myself to 10-15 mins each. Funny how it can take as long to discuss 2 poems as a whole chapter or short story -- I think because I always need to figure out why and how the writer has missed, to help the writer know the process of the writer-reader experience in order to improve. This requires my engagement with each writer as person as well as the individual work -- intensive, yes. But worth it.

How would one writer and a whole hour (or two) be -- more intense? 7 months in (4 sessions) we both are very happy. We meet every 6-8 weeks; he supplies his packet of writing a week before the face-to-face session. No phone or email coaching in-between, as agreed in our guidelines at start. So intensity of involvement is no problem and it feels a luxury and privilege to go in depth with one writer. What's more I get paid.

Best of all, this client can write, has something to say and learns fast, absorbing constructive criticism, adapting and incorporating to improve the flow of his style and to find the voice for his project. A joy!

Interested in process? My own book includes 23 pp, 11 exercises on writing process (toot-toot, my own horn, click right column). Re 1-to-1 consider The Write Guide: Mentoring by Martin Goodman and Sara Maitland

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

If you're NOT in regular teaching...

(1) So far as I can gather from the IfL (Institute for Learning) website if you are currently teaching in FE colleges (funded by LSC (Learning & Skills Council, ie government)) you must register with IfL by 31 March 2008 -- no fee to pay.

(2) But if you teach (train, assist-teach etc) in other LSC funded institutions (say prisons, community education etc) you have til 30 September 2008 -- no fee to pay.

(3) OR, if you do NOT CURRENTLY teach in LSC funded institutions -- but who knows, you might! -- you have until 31 March 2008 to register with no fee to pay. After that date, fee is £30.

I'm thinking of writers and creative types who teach occasional part-time creative writing adult classes... so this would be category 3 if you are not currently in a teaching gig. Most likely you'd register as an associate.

As to what this is all about, see my 15 Jan and 11 March blog entries, the comment from Lindsay on the 11 March blog, and the links under Gov't Now Requires in the column to the right -- the official sites.

Strange breaks with Easter so early this year, are you and your students confused?

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Writer's block

Led my Matrix group of experienced writers this morning. Writer's block was on their request list. Don't we all have it from time to time in larger and smaller degrees. After a quote or two from writers' interviews I'd recently read we had a good spontaneous airing of 8 people's stuckness. Blocks ranged from 'finished one thing, 3 weeks dryness' to 'was going fine, now dwindled to 2 forced sentences per session' to 'hating and waiting for agents before I can move on' to '3 year block on one project' to outright depression. Whew.

This discussion led naturally to lots of helpful ideas, swaps of 'what works for me'. Then we looked at a list of 20 sources of blocks from Eric Maisel's A Life in the Arts (1994, Tarcher/Putnam, NY) and, by vote (which blocks seem to apply to you?) explored some more deeply. I had us stand up and do a couple of mild brain-mind physical excercises -- always good to remember we writers have bodies. Ended with some guided writing questions including, finally, an animated visualisation of the frozen-in-fear block, and getting the creature to move.

One of the best things about teaching experienced writers, for me, is that I get to work on myself at the same time that I'm helping the writers in the group.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Don't miss 31 March FE tutors' registration deadline

Save £30 by registering before end March on the government-required Institute for Learning (IfL) register. Read more about it on my 15 January blog, and/or see the links I give on the right here under 'Gov't Now Requires...'

It's all about improving the quality and standards of teaching in the over 16's sector -- you've got to be registered for any teaching that gets public funding. You can still register after 31 March, but then there will be a fee of £30. As writing-type teachers, even if not currently teaching, we can be associates, so go ahead now -- why spend if you don't have to!

Meanwhile spring/summer teaching is shaping up, my trip to Nepal and India still swirls in my mind and soul and my duties call as new editor of The Brief, newsletter of the British Haiku Society.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

New Course Ideas

It's that time again. My team leader asked me if I want to do some 2-hour tasters in April, and short courses in June -- any ideas? I like these short courses (though I don't think I've ever done a single-slot of 2 hours before). Adult ed is needing these a lot (1) to keep fees low (2) to attract students (clients?).

For creative tutors it's an opportunity to try specialist things or focus on a single aspect. I brainstormed with myself and gave the college a choice of two 2-hrs and two 4-5 weekers. Hope she goes for 'Warming up to Creative Writing' and 'The Zen of Poetry.' I want only one slot each because I'm already scheduled for 'Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey', a 5-week course in April -- if we get the required minimum of students... Link to where I teach herewith.

No blogs for next 2 weeks -- I'm on holiday to India and Kathmandu!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Creative Homework

A writer-teacher buddy said her students refused to write in class. That's a tough one -- what would be the answer? Maybe writing WITH them. Or some really simple word play or totally nonsensical creativity. Or utter silence by the tutor as she/he sits and writes, leaving the students to either pick up their pens or walk out -- too provocative, perhaps?

Meanwhile I've enjoyed and benefitted from completing an application for entry in the V&A Inspired by... adult part-time education craft competition. I had to provide evidence of my creative progress on the project (a papier mache piece), a useful angle on the creative process. Hence introducing competitions to your writers as a way to cajole them into writing and completing.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Helpful stuff for teachers

Email response from Robert J Ray, author of The Weekend Novelist on receiving comp copy of my Creative Writing the Matrix book -- 'great cover, great organization, packed with helpful stuff for teachers'.

Of course he would say that, as he gave me permission to adapt several of his plot and scene exercises from his excellent, helpful, useful how-to book for writers into class exercises for teachers to use (Section 3 - Craft). Nevertheless, I'm glad he approved of the whole book.

Bob Ray also writes crime novels, and a new edition of his how-to is coming in UK. Check Amazon.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Opportunities via Society of Authors

Just signed on to the Educational Writers Group (EWG) within the Society of Authors; I was focussed on writing novels for my first years of membership. It's very friendly. They have a writer-teacher blog-of-the-month, inspiring to read. Have given me the April slot!

Hope you know that you can join the Society on strength of one book or just a book contract. Extremely helpful. Also, the EWG send out emails, including a recent one re educational publisher looking for writers.

Went to Kew on Sunday to see the magnificent Moores; now off to see the First Emperor warriors at the British Museum. Rich life.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Prepping a class for advanced writers

I'm in the midst of preparing a single session for a group of former students who have continued meeting on their own as a writers' circle for over a year -- mazeltov! In 2.5 hours we'll do stimulus (cinquains), craft (a scene, with emotional baggage) and process.

Haven't quite decided on process focus; something in me wants to do 'finishing resistance.' Or my own process in writing two cinquains as illustrations for the class, from start to revise, might be useful... 'specially because I began thinking it was 2-3-4-5-2 syllables, then checked my own book and found that was wrong. Revising to the correct form strengthened these little poems.

After my 'gap term' from teaching I'm very much looking forward to leading a circle of creativity again.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

About new gov't tutor registration

Lovely attentive audience for my talk to Women Writers Network last night, and lots of interest in the new government requirement that all who want to teach over 16s must register and qualify. So, in the continuing development of this blogspot I've given a link section (on the right) to the two key sites.

Institute for Learning (IfL) is directly of interest to you as a creative writing tutor, pretty easy to understand. It is the site where you register -- FREE until 31 March 2008; after that £30. My understanding is that you don't have to be teaching right now, or qualified; you'd be an affiliate. Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) is more overall, in-depth, gov't Skills Sector -speak.

Note: if you currently teach and are qualified, you still must register -- if your qualifications were ages ago that's okay, they're easing in the qualification stuff by allowing different categories.

A first qualification course, from this year, is called PTLLS ('petals') -- Preparation for Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector. It's 12 weeks, 3 hrs once a week. It's City & Guilds, kitemark for a good course. You can take it to get you ready to teach, if you want to learn before you plunge in; or, often, you can land yourself a creative writing teaching slot and take this course at the same time. See linklist for sources.

Be not afraid! If you don't plan to teach in publicly funded institutions (borough adult ed, libraries, colleges, prisons etc) then you don't have to worry about all this! But if you might someday, I'm just trying to save you having to pay £30 after 31 March 2008.

Monday, 7 January 2008

New Year, new me, new you

Greetings! I'm creating this blog for anyone interested in teaching creative writing to adults. Especially writers who teach (or are about to teach) creative writing in adult education, at writing events etc. Others welcome too, for instance creative writing teachers of all levels and circumstances, teachers of all sorts, maybe even creative writing students and writing circles.

The blog is to back up my book Creative Writing: the Matrix, Exercises & Ideas for Creative Writing Teachers. Such a small niche (hello, fellow nichers!) that I have published it myself (that's a story for a later blog posting). See The book has 95 exercises and 21 mini-lectures plus advice on planning and running a course.

News: If you can get to London, come ask questions direct on Monday 14 Jan. I'm talking at Women Writers Network, 6:30 for 7 pm, Conway Hall, Holborn WC1. For more on WWN see Sorry chaps, women only, but I'll be promoting more; watch this space.

Urgent news for all who teach or want to teach adults: there is a new government requirement to register. From March 2008 registering costs £30 but til then it's free. Even if you are not sure you'll teach, or will only teach now and then, you can just be an associate. So do it now while it's free!

And finally... most likely I will update this weekly, not daily. Let me know if Teaching Creative Writing as a blogspot suits your interests. I will blog the progress of Creative Writing: the Matrix, of small publishing, of my adventures in teaching creative writing.