Friday, 26 June 2009

Sparking the Written Word

Farewell for this academic year, but it's not quite all over for me. I am off to Winchester next Friday and have a slot for writers or teachers who want to teach creative writing. That's the title above.

Woke up in the night this week (as one does) and got to thinking about it, even though I had decided not to plan it til next week. A bit of insomnia can be very useful! It is only one hour, and the tough part of this brief is that the teachers might be teaching to 9 year olds... or 90 year olds. I want to pack the session with interactivity, so have decided on:
  • The Rant
  • Stone Writing
  • Postcard Prompt
  • Gift-of-Writing

Each of these is an exercise in itself, but I also will use different instructions to lead each one, and also point out how each draws upon a different inner source. Why and how did I choose these, I asked myself in the night -- came up with a list of 7 reasons which add up to Voice. Teaching creative writing is about helping a person to find her/his own voice.

If you want one of these (end of year freebie) contact me via comments or profile. Better yet, buy Creative Writing: the Matrix!

I have just completed my CPD for IfL via Reflect online. The simple IfL declaration is easy-peasy, but you don't put in details -- no sense of accomplishment. The Reflect blue-coloured step-by-step on the IfL site is simple to use and more fun. I suggest tackling it in 2 - 3 sessions. Does NOT really take that long, but learning a new click-path is wearing. I got cross when I got to the 'send to CPD' stage and had to perform yet another (simple) series of clicks. Anyway, all clicked and on board now.

Have a happy writing summer! Back in mid September -- but if you are new to this blog, feeling urgent and planning a new course, do look back on blog entries of the last 18 months where you'll find plenty of ammo.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

How'm I doing?

Here is my self-critique following the 1-hour Hero's Journey class I gave last week (see Quart into Pint Pot Challenge blog of 2 June). I do this on the back of the class plan after every class I teach, an aide-memoir to tweaking improvements.
  • Went all right, a well-gelled class of committed writers. BUT I read out from an article arguing for myth/narrative. Maybe it interested them but felt like a droning start to me. Won't do that again, because I still had to explain Hero archetype overview (w/ handout), which is yet more me talking. Finally got to 'Your call to writing' pair-chat and it felt alive. Mentor's Gift they all liked and all reported what they found from it. No time to write a scene, but I told them about it. Be clearer, repeat that it is not a formula.

Another way I assess my teaching is by direct student feedback. I begin every course with a half-sheet asking what they are currently writing, what stage of writing. This helps me to tune the level of course content and my own expectations. Final class, I return the sheet and ask how they felt about the usefulness of the course, and for any specifics they liked or not, any ideas for change.

Tedious, perhaps, when they have one or more assessment questionnaires for the college as well, but I encourage them to be open and to help me out. When I take these home it's always a little 'hold my breath' moment -- will I get a stinker? But then any negatives are a guide to improvement. By now the 5-week Hero Writer course is pretty well tweaked, it seems. From one 'report card':

  • We got so many ideas and were allowed to work creatively whilst learning important skills at the same time. I loved the structure of the hero's journey as a framework to help you write and particularly enjoyed the Mentor's Gift and the little bits at the end, the Writer's Journey.

So, that's all right then. The sort of negative comments were only in the form of 'I want more of this' -- a longer course, more of the Writer's Journey aspect (internal process of becoming a writer), more courses from me. So that's all right too!

The academic year is almost done -- hope you teachers/writers get useful report cards too. I'll be blogging next week and then taking the summer off, getting on with my own writing.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Planning farewells

Tis the season of farewells -- end of term, of course, of year. Maybe I am a bit late in suggesting this to you now, maybe not: a class anthology to round out your course?

The important thing is to make a learning experience of it. Do NOT choose the samples of work, reproduce and put it together yourself. No, no, no.

Bring in anthologies from previous classes, or from other writing gatherings (the Arvon week I attended did one, and many medium-level competitions issue anthologies of winning entries). These show your class the range of simplicity (photocopied pages stapled together) to sophistication (a booklet) so your students can decide what to do.

Then set out the editorial and production realities, and get the class to discuss and make decisions. This is what makes it a lesson in publishing, so that writing students may come to appreciate some of what publishers do for them. What size, how many pages = how many, how long contributions are.

Will there be a theme? New writing for the theme? Or selections of existing writing? What about a title? Cover design? Someone has to do table of contents. Someone(s) has to collect, collate and then number pages -- is it going to be done all in one style of font and layout? Therefore is proofreading needed?

And don't leave out the fun bit where writers get to write their own short author description for a listing at the back. Or front. Or at end/start of each piece.

And then there's reproduction. How many? Will your teaching institution do it? At no charge? Or do students have access to photocopying, or do they club money and take it to a copyshop?

Whew -- a lot of work. So it is not up to tutor but up to proud writer-students to do the work and learn from it. A class anthology makes a wonderful souvenir of the course for everyone -- including you, the tutor.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Quart into pint pot challenge

Quarts into pints or litres into halfs, the challenge is to boil down or skim off a course-worth's material into a 45 minute class. I am substituting for a writer-tutor buddy who has asked me to tell her class about Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey.

Well, hmmm. I first devised the course as 6 one-day (10 am - 4 pm) workshops over an academic year. That is, first session class was on Hero, second entirely devoted to Thresholds, Guardians, Allies etc. It worked well and we had oceans (well, I am talking myth here) of time for writing and for discussion.

A couple of years later I re-jigged it as a course of five weeks, 2 hours per session. Less time to write and discuss in class, fewer readings out of material. But still, it works well -- that's the course I just finished teaching. To run again in November.

But in 45 minutes -- what to do? I don't want to drone (I mean lecture) on and on about the hero concept and its many parts. I am much happier -- that is I feel and see that I am reaching students with my teaching -- when they write and we interact. So I must work in one exercise -- which one? This class is pretty well established and most are engaged on a work in hand, so my standard Character Profile beginning does not feel right.

I think I have decided on Mentor, with my Serendipity Bag of odd items (some very odd indeed). It is a useful way for a writer to gain insights into a character she/he thinks they know already. It uses staged questions. I have done it with the class each time, and it has suprised and enriched me every time.

I met a mingling of two former Hero writing classes at the pub last week and sought the opinion of one writer-on-the-journey. She liked the postcard exercises most of all, but saw my reasoning and liked Mentor too.

I will let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, if you don't know what staged questions, character profile and serendipity bag are -- buy Creative Writing: the Matrix!