Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Publication for one of my students!

[Last entry before the break; back in January when I find out if my class has made its numbers and will run...]

Oh, the thrill of it. One of my long-time students (whom I no longer teach -- this group of Writers at Work have gone on meeting on their own weekly, reading out and encouraging each other) has told me that his novel is to be published!


John is a fine writer and has completed several novels and a number of short stories over the years I've known him, sensitively and interestingly written. He has sent novels off and achieved rejections. This novel, with the group's support, he approached in a different way: a crime novel, called Dying for a Read. I will be tracking its progress.

I met with another student from that course recently to catch up on things. She had gone in a different direction, asking me to write a reference for her to go for a Master's Degree in Literature & Psychology... six or so years later, it transpires that this became psychology only, and she is now working on her PhD, speaking at international seminars, and editor and driving force of Pendulum, the journal of MDF, the Bipolar Organisation. Go, Clare Dolman!

Several other now-published writers have passed through my classes. I find it really interesting that when my students get published I always feel -- 'it wasn't me, my teaching, they simply had it in them.' And they did! I think what a good class and good teacher do is provide a mixing-holding place for talent, a nurturance and belief, helping writers to sustain their effort.

Many, of course do not get published. Because they stop trying? Because they have not improved enough? Because writing is too hard? Because they find other things to do? Because they aren't writing to get published? Still... it is a journey of discovery.

Helen's comment last week on the student who blossomed... that is so rewarding. Seems to me that with the shy student confidence-building is the key, and patience, and not forcing him/her to read out, and an attitude from you that you take his/her efforts at writing absolutely seriously, you believe in it.

Along these lines of 'growing people', perhaps, is a piece in the NAWE (National Ass'n of Writers in Education) Director's Report 2010 summing up a report on writers teaching in schools. The project effectively demonstrated 'how writing can be used to unlock both intellectual and emotional responses.' Yes, that's what I like about teaching creative writing: helping people to say what they want to say, and sometimes to find out what they want to say.

If you haven't yet joined NAWE, do. Good, re-launched, website:

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Critiquing & feedback

Hello! Back to the blog after a wonderful travelling holiday.

On my mind: giving people feedback that supports their creativity and motivation. On my mind because I am getting RSVPs for my Creative Open House. It is a celebratory party, a weekend afternoon open house, and for fun, the invitation asks people to

bring something small(ish) that you have made
or written or photographed or otherwise created, or,
if you deem yourself not creative,
a postcard, shell, stone, feather, flower
or other pretty/handsome/fun thing
for each other to love, remark, admire,
not to judge, just to share...
or just come and enjoy a temporary gallery

I've invited lots of my long-time students, my papier mache group, my novel-writing group, haiku friends, creative-writing-teaching friends, psychoanalytic fellow students, and local friends and neighbors. In other words, my kind of people.

It is fascinating to see the way people respond. I didn't mean the whole thing as a terrific challenge, just a bit of fun and mutual 'gosh! gee! wow! how interesting! I love that too!' OR 'You did that! I never knew...' OR 'That's so pretty (astonishing/interesting)'

As I expected, the writer-types and art-makers are intrigued and all for it. But a surprising (to me) number of others seem to feel put-on-the-spot. When they express this to me I jolly them along and remind them it can be something they like, not something they made. Of course some may have RSVPd NO out of sheer stage-fright.

The instant reaction I'm most chuffed about is by hearsay from the younger generation (early 20s) who glimpse the invitation and say: 'What a great idea for a party!'

So what does this have to do with teaching creative writing? It's a reminder that so many people are so 'tongue-tied' and shy about revealing themselves, about feeling confident in liking and sharing something, about the very notion of their own natural creativity.

Gentle, consistent, encouraging feedback is ESSENTIAL if writing students are to grow in their writing. This does not mean not to criticise (more on that another time), but is a reminder to me and all of us that confidence and pleasure in writing/making/seeing/being comes before any progress is possible. Usually? Agree? Disagree?

Also, re teaching, this could be an idea for your class's end-of-term party. See how they react to the invitation!

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Lucky me -- two weeks of fascinating travel. Will be back to blogging about teaching creative writing in late November. Meanwhile, use the Labels list to search through for exercises, teaching tips or a host of other things.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sour-puss students

I mentioned the possibility of a querulously querying student last week, and Helen, for one, wanted to know if I have run across this situation much and how I handle it. See her comment on last week's blog where she describes witnessing such an incident.

The situation she describes -- a student actually stomping or storming or flouncing out of a course -- I have witnessed too. In fact, I've seen it happen at three residential writing events I have attended! It got so that I took it as routine and decided to re-assure myself: every residential WILL have a super-tender or super-ego participant. Seems to be a law, so if I ever lead one I should not blame myself for the outbreak/flounce/storm.

The question is what to do about it? If the person does leave, I say: breathe a sigh of relief and soothe your ruffled feathers and go on... you will probably have to soothe the bruises or worries of the other students too. DO remember NOT to feel guilty or act defensive. Writing courses, especially residentials, seem to attract some vulnerable people; they come loaded, primed to go off.

If the person doesn't leave, or if you are, like the example mentioned, attempting to smooth things with the student, try to stay clear of 'counselling' -- unless you are trained and qualified. I think you have to keep the talk to the writing and behaviour and the needs of others in the group. Good luck!

How about in regular weekly classes? I've never had a storm-out (that I know of, though of course some people cease attending without saying why -- private storms maybe). But I have indeed had the Questioner, the Doubter, the Success Maven, the Cynic, the Party Pooper... you can name some more. Usually one per year, not, thank goodness one per course.

Sometimes I pre-empt, especially with the more strange of my exercises (as last week; and the ones straying into psychological territory), and tell the class: 'this exercise does not work for about 1 out of 10 people. I have found that it does bear wonderful fruit for most people, but it's pefectly fine if it does not work for you... please put up with it, we'll soon be on to something else today. You might want to write to yourself about what you don't like about this exercise -- could be useful!'

When I get those 'what's the point' queries: sometimes there IS a point (to explore the character, to try other styles, to let go of perfection -- whatever). Sometimes I just ask them to trust me, they'll see why... or get something from it at the end.

Well I could go on and on... I have had two classes where somehow among the students a lot of bad feeling stirred; seemed to be one particular person who knocked or gossiped about others in the class. I only gradually became aware of this; then avoided it as long as I could, not wanting to get sucked into it. Seems to come from the student who is writing least, actually, and simmering with hostility -- all to do with being blocked. I did finally take aside this one I suspected of being the ringleader/meanie and ask her to be gentler in her criticisms (to readings out), suggested she did not realise how powerful an effect she had. And told her she wrote very well (which she did, WHEN she did) and had high standards. I stayed out of the 'bullying' problem as I only knew of it from hearsay, which in itself might have been poisoned. Don't know if it worked; things settled down; she did not join the class for term 2...

The joy of it is that most of our students most of the time are bright, warm, fun, eager to cooperate, supportive of each other and of the tutor. And several times I have had the reward, at the end of the course, of the Gadfly praising the course and my teaching -- sweet indeed!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Creative stimulus

So I have been talking about cross-discipline (cross-media) as a help in creative writing. And I promised some in-the-classroom ideas.

- Feel Free Joy, exercise 86 in Creative Writing: the Matrix, is about getting loads of felt-tip pens, crayons, chalks, and horizontal blank A4 paper (the better for lateral non-thinking) and telling people to just make marks on paper. Just let go, choose whatever colours appeal, change colours and textures, don't make pictures or specifics... It is fantastically fun and freeing... which is how we wish we felt more often when writing.

And if you have the sour-puss student who insists on a reason for doing this (usually because he/she feels inhibited or threatened?): even just doing this is loosening and stimulating. Sometimes we forget to have fun.

- Creativity Doll, from Julia Cameron's The Vein of Gold (1997 ed, Pan Books) pp 127-135. A colleague of mine had a hugely successful Saturday class doing this. She brought, and had students bring in, all sorts of oddments of fabric, buttons, trimmings, wire, string, nuts & bolts, shells, sticks, rocks, wood, old jewellery, magazines et cetera. The idea is to make a 'doll' (or thing) about the lack or the wish or the missing piece or frustration or ideal or hope of creativity (Cameron also suggests a Creativity Monster, about all the negatives). People get engaged, relaxed, have fun, find new energies... and usually discover some new aspect of themselves.

- Instant Productive Crumpled Chaos, requires absolutely no props, except a half-sheet of blank paper (or two). This isn't crossing media actually, but it gives an element of anarchy and urgency that gets results, and fun. Each person writes a word on the blank piece of paper, an object. Crumple up the paper and chuck it onto the floor in the middle of the room (if an open square), or into a basket/bin/bag. [but the tossing onto the floor is the anarchic, loosening part]. Everyone gets up and draws one out. You can repeats this: on another piece of paper, write a first name. Crumple and retrieve again. [If you have two different colours of paper to distribute, then you can do this all in one go.]

Then everyone has a word, or a word and a name and -- write for 5-10 minutes on it! See what you get. Forcing together a name and an object usually brings about the start of a story. Or try two objects. Or... well, you get it.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Using different creativities to help writing

So I promised (last entry) to say what papier mache taught me about writing. Two main things: trust and patience. Or maybe they combine to make one thing.

First of all, this kind of sculptural papier mache starts with a wire armature -- a stiff bit (or bits) of wire you shape into a simple sketch or line or stick-figure of the intended creation. A standing man, a sitting dog, a dancing rabbit... whatever.

Next, without going into too much detail here, you wrap the wire tightly with newspaper, then scrunch up newspaper and begin to build up the legs, arms, body, head... At first you use some masking tape to hold the scrunches in place, but soon you use strips of newspaper that you have covered with (special recipe) flour and water paste. Yum, that's the start of the icky, sticky, gooey malleable stage. You go on and cover the limbs/shapes with a layer of short torn strips of pasted newspaper.

Then -- you have to wait. Because it has to dry before you can add another layer, or another scrunch or three to fill out or improve the shape in places. In fact, you have to let it dry several times over this stage. (If you don't let it dry it will become a damp, mouldy, smelly lump.)

So where's the writing bit? About the time I was working on my third piece I realised that I had learned to trust the process. To be patient with the work -- AND WITH MYSELF. And I realised I had not been doing this with my fiction writing. So, step by above step:

The armature, the simple wire shape, is the backbone, the centre from which the piece will grow. It is a vague, vague outline of the end result. It comes after an idea or 'vision' (an idea of an idea), which may have some specifics but not many -- it is felt or seen rather than thought.

So -- a haiku; the vision or feeling or urge to capture something comes... the shape (the wire armature) is a given (usually) 3 lines. Or -- the story of my great grandfather Ephraim's life; I had the urge, need, to write it, but didn't until (after YEARS of trying) I broke through and settled for chronological 3rd person telling (the armature). Yes, this is structure -- but believe me, in both papier mache and my creativity it is not structure planned and thought out in detail. It is an idea of form, loose, open... but enough to be the start of a direction.

But the most useful lesson came in the waiting that the papier mache process imposed on me. No matter how perfect I want it to be, or how fast I want to it to progress, or how bad it looks right now -- I have to wait. Wait until it dries and I can continue (1-2 days). When I come back to it -- oh, hey, it's not so bad. Or oh, yuk, it is bad... but if I put a bit here and a bit there... etc. In other words it kyboshed my fear of imperfection. It made me trust that I can, and will, make it better. By doing it with less impatience, by accepting that for now, it is a mess. Some part of me knows where it is going, knows it will take time -- I manage to turn my chattery self-critical head off and just scrunch and paste... or write a paragraph, scene or page that probably isn't perfect, but at least it is going forward.

A final thing (for now) about the sculptural papier mache process: you can get out your Stanley knife and cut off the head! Or the tail, or the biceps or whatever part just isn't working. The dried paper-and-paste is easy to cut away and to patch over or rebuild. So liberating! And this is like cutting and shaping my writing -- yup, that paragraph has to go, actually, that whole passage is much too fussy and detailed, aha, if I move that last sentence down then I can put in an essential bit without ruining the flow et cetera.

Once again this is long-ish, and Downton Abbey is about to start, but I promised to relate this to your classes, because the point of this blog is not ego-tripping but being USEFUL. I can think of one thing, but will take too much space tonight. So how about just airing this with your students -- do they do other arts, music, dance, sport, where the emphasis is on just doing? And possibly discuss this quote from Paul Cezanne: If I think, everything is lost.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Poetry & TV, prose & papier mache

Did you watch The Song of Lunch on BBC2 last weekend? Do poetry and television drama work together? The poem by Christopher Reid presented the meeting of a pair of former lovers on a lunch date from the point of view of the (sad, sorry for himself and eventually drunken) man in an interior monologue. So there, for me, is an example of crossing disciplines (or media) that did not work. Much of it did just what we have to drum into the heads of our writers NOT to do -- it told what we could see for ourselves. Sometimes it told, and then showed the same thing. Sometimes showed and then told. So... it was slow and frustrating and un-engaging and gave me too much time to dislike the narrator character.

Oh well, it did give me new insights into what I do want in drama. And in what not to do with poetry, or at least with this particular poem in this particular way (however, the photography was excellent and Emma Thompson looked wonderful). You could think of talking to your students about this kind of artistic experience -- sometimes it can be easier to appreciate the craft of creating via something that is flawed: what's wrong with it and why? Also, allowing for debate: some people may have loved The Song of Lunch!

But I bring up this crossing of disciplines because I wanted to share another cross, one that I have found useful, much to my surprise. I took up sculptural papier mache three years ago -- that is, not kiddy-stuff masks and bowls, but wire-armatured figures (though anything goes among this marvellous group of artists). I wanted a different creative outlet, a WORDLESS, PUL-EEZE!, creativity. And gradually, as I learned it and loved it, I found it helped my writing. Because the work demonstrated to me the patience and confidence I did not have in my writing.

Hmmm, I can sense that this blog entry is going to go on far too long if I begin now to tell you what papier mache taught me about writing -- so I will make you wait until next week. I will also link it to the classroom so that it can be of direct use to you. I promise, the benefit is NOT making use of one's crumpled-up and abandoned writing drafts as papier with which to mache!

Just for fun, some of my story-figures are on my site if you want to see. A good website for a worldwide gallery of creative papier mache is

Friday, 1 October 2010

A fabulous first class

Hurrah for Helen! In a posting to my 13 September blog she added a description of her first class of the term. It's down there in the comments attached to 'The required number of students' entry, but so full of good sense and good ideas and the joys of teaching creative writing that I'm putting her comments right here in this entry -- inspiration for all of us. So thank you, Helen.

"I wasn't sure how it would work but I decided to follow your book's advice and gave them all a questionnaire to fill in and writing magazines to flick through while we got through the chaos of enrolment and late arrivals! Then, as you suggest, I asked them to bring their completed questionnaire up to me and I 'rewarded' them with a little chat and wrote their name on a name 'tent' for their desk. It worked really well! And definitely helped me remember everyone's name and 'welcome' them all individually.

"Then I did a couple of exercises that I've done myself - as a student and trainee on a PTTLS course this summer. Firstly, I asked each person to say their name and to tell the group something they wished they were brave enough to do. We had everything from 'have a baby' to 'bungee jump' or 'ride across America'. I told them that, through Creative Writing, they could do all those things! (bit cheesy but it got their attention)

"Then, in groups of 4, I asked them to discuss their 'expectations and concerns' for the course. I find -perhaps you do too [YES] - that people come to Creative Writing courses with all kinds of misconceptions about what it is and what it can do for them. Getting someone from each 'team' to present their comments to the whole class - and allowing me to respond where appropriate - meant that we covered lots of ground in an interactive way (not just me lecturing!) AND I was able to reassure them and answer queries. I also got across an important point: the best way to learn is to WRITE! I also found myself explaining my own 'expectations and concerns' for the course (which I hadn't expected to do!). By coffee break (and we did some wrting after that), the group was already gelling, laughing and chatting to each other. Definitely the best 'first night' I've ever had!"

Sounds ideal, Helen, thank you so much for this. Great use of small groups; I too love them as a way to air lots of material, to give everyone a voice (and some friends) and to not be 'Ms Teacher' talking at them. Your class next week is bound to be just as much fun, as the students are all warmed and raring to go.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Using a class text

I have never been to a creative writing class that used a book or story which we all read in common, but I instituted this practice in my long-running courses. Interesting, isn't it, that poetry-writing tutors often start off a session by looking at a published poem or two, before moving on to exercises. And screen script-writing courses often look at bits of films, yet prose classes don't generally.

So I wanted to revive this practice for my class -- what did I choose? And why? In talking about characters, character development, plot and archetypes I often refer to films. To books, too, but it is easier to find a film seen by many than a book read by many -- usually I call on famous movies like Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, Lion King. But even those have never been seen by 100% of a class. I also call on famous tales, like Peter Rabbit and Red Riding Hood. If if were a longer course I would have us all watch a film or read a book together. But it's not.

I chose Liver, a short story by Louis de Bernieres, published in New Writing 5, eds C Hope and P Porter, Vintage in Assn with the British Council, London, 1996. It's ten pages, a bit over 3,000 words. According to the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), if working at a recognised educational institution we can photocopy a short story or poem of not more than ten pages from an anthology without permission so long as it is only for instruction.

But anyway, as I was saying -- why this? Well, some of the stories were longer, too long for the class time we have. And many were subtle and literary -- not clear demonstrations of the points I wanted to make. And quite a view featured raunchy language, sex or violence (being contemporary) which, again for time reasons in this 5 week course, I did not want to bring into the class room.

You can use a given text to talk about voice, pace, description, point of view, whatever! I wanted to talk about the Hero (main character)... he has a daily life and worries (domestic chores for his wife) and then a challenge, a call to action (so now this is about structure and archetype). He has a Shadow, someone to conquer (his wife), a Mentor (nice man who runs the laundrette), Allies (West Indian ladies at the laundrette) -- so all of these are about characters/characterisation, also about setting and the Special World (laundrette and Turkish restaurant).

It is a comic, or even blackly comic, story of sweet (if deathly) revenge, so of course it does not exactly fit the Hero's Journey pattern. But enough of the elements are there to prove to students that the archetypal energies and patterns occur in every story.

And here is your let-out clause: if a story does not entirely bear out the point you are trying to make, it is a learning point. Why doesn't it fit the 'rules'? If it still works anyway, how did the writer make it work? Writing is never writing by numbers, and creativity is infinite.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The required number of students

Argh! It has happened -- today I lost the brinkmanship game of adult education, for this term. The enrolments for it last week were at 50% of the required number. Today, Monday, it's the same -- sigh! My Line Manager rang with the news, and the choice: delay the course by 2-3 weeks, or put it off to a new start of term in January.

What would you do? The already-enrolled may not be able to do either delay. But then again they might. I'm geared up to teach... but can gear down.

A main problem -- the course is listed in print prospectus as November start. This could be a reason for low enrolment, but then the website was corrected early-on.

Manager says lots of enrolments are low, lots of classes closed or delayed. If we delay mine and my numbers still aren't made, it will still have to close, and the original enrolling students will have been mucked about twice.

My decision: January start. College will offer this, maybe we will carry through those already enrolled. ADVANTAGE: we can catch any print-prospectus customers who try to enrol for the (erroneous) November dates and direct them to enrol for January. AND the College, if running this and other courses as new listings, will be giving January courses an extra promotional boost.

Speaking of promotion, this is what I will do in December which I did not get round to doing in August -- see my blog on that under Promoting Your Course.

Meanwhile, per last week's prep, I did decide on a short story to use as illustration of character and structure. But I will make you wait til next week to learn which one.

Friday, 3 September 2010


Hello, creative ones. We are back in the back-to-school saddle. My first class isn't til 16th Sept. because this year, in these hard times, my college is running a promotional 'taster' week. I wasn't invited to offer a tasting, nor were any other creative writing courses, but anything that gets people through the doors might bring want-to-writers our way.

If you need them, find tips and ideas for start-of-term introductions and exercises by calling up the labels on this blog -- like 'starting term' and 'start of term': 4 entries altogether, what more can I say? (I can say buy the book; also can say, I put this term's new excerpt of exercise and tutor support tip on the book's website

As an old hand, having taught this course in various versions for several years (Creative Writing: Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey) I won't re-organise my notebook and review my first session plan until 2 days before, so that I am sharpened and energized by the slight adrenalin of performance anxiety. However I have decided to add an element to the course -- one must ever be tweaking in order to keep fresh.

In describing archetypes I tend to talk about films in this course, as well as novels, as there is more of a concensus of those who have seen or at least know the story of some popular movies. But it is a prose narrative writing course not scriptwriting. It's only 5 weeks long, we haven't time to read a novel nor view a whole film nor do people have the commitment to watch a given film as homework (I've tried, but nope).

So I am going to find a short story and photocopy it (one is allowed to, for teaching purposes) so we are all on one hymn sheet. I have several volumes of the excellent annual New Writing anthology sponsored by the British Council (is it still published? I must check), in which I found many good stories to study with my Writers at Work class. I have to find one that illustrates the hero's journey quest structure and (given that it is a short story, not film or novel) some of the key character archetypes. I will let you know what I choose -- and welcome your suggestions.

PS I have added pictures of some of my more recent sculptural papier mache fantasy figures to my Susan Lee Kerr 'holding' blog page. Take a peek

Monday, 7 June 2010

How to do endings

See you in early September as we approach the new term. See last para for tips on where to get tips in the meanwhile.

It's hard to teach endings, isn't it? I mean, beginnings are easy-peasy*... or rather, it is easy to spark students with stimulus exercises in all sorts of ways (a picture, an object, a word, a sentence, a memory etc etc) but an ending has to be an ending... of something.

You might think of having students complete a draft of a short story/poem and then make them change to a different ending -- YOU might do that, but I wouldn't. I feel that once a writer has got all the way through to an ending he/she has invested too much in it to flippantly 'stimulus exercise' different endings.

But you can get students to think about different endings -- via lecture and examples from published writers. And -- here's the main exercise I use: get them to mess around with published writers' work. I have a wonderful book called Great Beginnings, opening lines of great novels (Georgianne Ensign, HarperCollins 1993; thank you to dear friend Beverly for the gift of it). From it I have copytyped selected short opening paragraphs. Each student then writes an ending for the opening paragraph she/he has been given. They have not a clue as to what happened in between, but it's extraordinary how the start gives clues for the final few sentences of a work.

We read out, and here we discuss some types of endings (echo, closing the circle, opposite, open-ended, image etc). Then (here's the flippant stimulus-type approach) I make them choose a different way to end (opposite to what they did, or stronger or gentler or happier or blacker) -- that's what I mean about messing around. From this the students get a good working sense of the options and power of the very ending of a piece. This method can work with poetry as well. Now they can go away and consider the endings of their own works in progress (or works yet begun).

*Of course beginnings aren't really easy -- how many times have you re-crafted the opening of your novel, short story, poem, article? It's got to hook and intrigue, got to say enough but not too much, got to have the right tone, language -- the voice. But this is the writing is re-writing part, which all writers eventually have to get comfortable with... without letting it inhibit their initial start.

With all of this ending stuff, guess what? My way of saying it's the end of the term and this blog until September! If you need ammo during the summer check my list of labels for past blogs, especially under exercises and stimulus. And there's an exercise and tutor tip from the book on the Creative Writing: the Matrix website.

Another source of exercises is

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sense-ual writing

Super to hear from Helen who had a great buzz in her class through using the 8 senses (see my blogs labelled senses) and pictures. Then -- O Creative One -- she went on to focus on senses and poetry, and she suggests an excellent source for poetry workshops. 'All the work's done for you, if you pick a good one!' she says. It is on the Guardian website, and the one she used was by Matthew Francis... I checked it out, YES! Here is the link

So thank you Helen and thank you Matthew. If anyone else out there has useful, relevant resources to recommend and creative teaching variations to share let me know and I'll blog it -- one big happy creative mix.

Last pub-gather of my academic year this week; I have sent a reminder to all of my Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey writers. It is fun and rewarding to introduce the new batch to the previous 'graduates' and see this group of local writers build and encourage each other. I don't go every month (got my own bunches of writers to build and encourage me) but I do like to keep in touch.

Remember to encourage all your writers to enter competitions -- the Bridport deadline is in June... must be loads of others too. Make it an assignment: they all have to look up comps and bring them in to share -- online, in libraries, in the Poetry Library, in writing magazines. Like I said, one big happy creative mix.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Creative unblocking

Alternative title for today's blog is 'The Uses of Silliness' and it comes from Trickster energy, that is, the archetypal Trickster element of the Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey. It was the final class (of 4) last week. I save Trickster til the end because... (a) it takes nerve to present it and (b) it is a good laughing antidote to taking ourselves and our writing too seriously.

First part of the session was writing exercises and talk on Ways of Ending; also reprise on structure/dramatic tension -- why a story needs both a crisis and a climax. (See Christopher Vogler's book, The Writer's Journey, on this.) Then the silly part: little pots of Play Doh, and instructions to paired students to quickly-quickly make a little creature and create a little drama:
they meet, they like each other, they fight, they hug and make up, The End. Fast-fast-fast!

Silly? You bet. Everyone starts giggling and laughing, and I do it with them, and there is NO TIME to be self-conscious or serioso... just time to be quick, childlike and fun. As tutor you have to present it so rapidly that students don't have time to object or think about it or ask questons: be confident, steam ahead!

Afterwards I explain the Trickster archetype -- the jester, the comic side-kick, the banana skin, the puffed-up-ego-deflator, the bringer-down-to-earth, the loosener of soil. In a wonderful talk, Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of Demeter mourning and seeking Persephone, when in her moment of deepest despair the impudent Balbo comes along... a bit of the comic erotic. All the same stuff -- the force, often unbidden, that makes or lets us laugh at our troubles. And in so doing gain perspective and refreshment.

I describe a similar but somewhat less courage-demanding (for the tutor) exercise in Cr Wr The Matrix, Exercise 86, Feel Free Joy, page 115; using crayons, pencils, felt markers. I've done it with coloured paper, too; a rapido collage. Any of these are ideal not only for fun, but to loosen a class, a group or an individual (yourself???) to break up po-faced, rigid, blocked creativity... to aid
loose and flowing creativity.

And then it was farewell, Heroes (after the usual evaluate/feedback forms the college needs and I use as my own 'report card' for my own future teaching ideas). And then, off to the pub.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Storyboard and writers' chat

So last week was the third Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey class, and this coming week it is The End -- shockingly soon, especially because I am used to teaching it as five weeks.

As mentioned earlier, I had to choose the best-of-the-best to squeeze 5 into 4. The new combinations seem to work. Where I used to have The Mentor's Gift (see earlier blog on this using the labels list) in session two, I moved it to session three, so as to get early to the character and plot enrichment of The Shadow (see last week).

This made session three combine the always fun writing-from-an-object Serendipity Bag with a scene writing session and more. I tried something new, and introduced the Scene Storyboard (thank you Robert J Ray and your Weekend Novelist book) AFTER they had written an Approaching the Inmost Cave (Ordeal or Crisis) scene. Again this was because of my time squeeze.

Normally I give the storyboard format as a handout, explain, have them fill in the prompts, and then write a scene. This takes time, so it was a question of skipping storyboard altogether or... following my recognition that actually most people instinctively know what a scene is and how to write it. Or at least they have a good go, which is enough to get started (after all, everything can be improved, and writing is re-writing anyway).

So now (here's the new genius part), using storyboard handout and their own PRE-WRITTEN scene I asked individuals at random, 'What was the place and time of day of your setting?' 'What objects and images were in the scene?' 'What were the large actions?' What could be small actions?' and so on. This made each writer answer from her/his own writing, providing a perfect illustration and discussion point for the lecture-y bits about storyboarding. They were all too shy to read out their scenes, by the way, so this was also a good method to let them show their writing without having to totally expose themselves.

Finally in this session I was able to leave a good 20-30 minutes for writerly chat about overcoming obstacles to writing. This is the Writer's Journey part of the content, and rather than the paired chats and reflective writing we'd done on the writing life so far, by this week the class was warmed and ready for friendly, supportive, open discussion about struggles and strategies for starting and keeping on writing.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Writing exercises that work!

I'm halfway through my Hero's Journey creative writing class -- did the small group plotting exercise* which, as always, was lovely, exciting, energizing and fun. It's so easy when you can set them up and then... they practically teach themselves.

Meanwhile, hope you'll forgive my presenting you with the big bouquet sent me from Helen who describes herself as a new-ish creative writing teacher and follower of this blog.

thank you sooo much for your brilliant book which is making my class preparation/delivery a cinch!... I've already used the 'write the names of 6 people from your childhood' (and they developed one of those into a character sketch or poem) and the character profile form, based on picking a first name, surname and age at random. They all really enjoyed that - we had some fabulous names (eg: "Desiree Daniels"!! which sounded like a pole dancer, we all agreed...!) and it took ages (bliss!) for everyone to feed back because the'd all been so inspired.

If only I'd had your book when I started out 2.5 years ago... it is going to be my 'bible' for quite a while!

Thank YOU to Helen, who's given me permission to quote her here. And all best to her for carrying on carrying on. Thanks to her students, too.

* this is on pp 74-76 of Creative Writing: the Matrix -- Mini-lecture 8 and Exercise 66

Monday, 26 April 2010

Postcard exercises

I've just given the how-to's for four different categories of postcards for writing stimulus exercises -- on my website. I change the Exercise extract and Tutor Support extract at the start of each term, so if you are a regular to reading this blog, do go to for your freebie teaching help this week.

If you are new to this blog, arrived here from the website -- well, the website only changes termly, and the extracts are not archived on the site. So that's all you'll get today. BUT if you are looking for exercise ideas just select stimulus from the labels of this blog... and you'll get a choice of ten. And more under other labels. Because this blog IS an archive. Of course you could always buy the book.

But here I am live! (oh yes, new pic of me on the site too). And surviving in the brinkmanship of adult education, hurrah! The class did NOT make its minimum but my line mangagement asked me if I could cover the Hero's Journey course material in 4 weeks instead of 5. So of course I said yes. And their management agreed.

This was all on the morning of the first session. Rapid go-through of my material -- fortunately all organised in my binder and well sunk into my bones because I have taught this 5-week version four times.

Interesting and probably even useful to juggle and refit things -- which were the very very best exercises? Which did students enjoy most? Which capture the salient points of the Hero's Journey archetype for creative writing?

First class went well (and all agreed to stick with the course as 4 weeks for the same fee as they paid for 5; alternative was to close the course). Of course first class is always a wee bit stiff and shy, so I'm really looking forward to second session this week. I am probably moving up the Shadow -- it is a great character deepener -- and the very lively plotting exercise (small group work) which will be a good darkness antidote.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Seriously writing

Welcome to the start of the third term of the year. If you are teaching a long course you may be flagging by now -- how to keep the students inspired and entertained, how to keep up your energy?

There's nothing like a goal, so this is the time to announce a group or class anthology -- you can make one or several (part) sessions of the topic. I talk about this in my Matrix book, but in brief: you can bring in samples of other class anthologies (you have saved them over the years, I hope; or those produced by, say, your Arvon/Ty Newydd etc week).

Debate/discuss cover, size, page-count, length limitations, deadlines, production -- oh, yes, and content. Should it have a theme? All be new work, a new assignment or inspiration? Or 'best of' work done during the year? This is excellent edtorial experience for students -- a little taste of the publishing business which sheds light on the process and how it relates to their own writing. What I mean is, you can point out how and why writing gets rejected: often NOT because it is not good, but because it doesn't fit the publisher's needs or parameters.

Other deadlines to shoot for are writing competitions -- I have blogged this before, check the 'labels' to find the blogs. June is a time of a number of important comp deadlines.

Meanwhile brinkmanship continues. At the time of writing, my class due to start in two days has not got the enrolment it needs... but then people are still waking up (or stuck due to volcano ash), so maybe by mid-day tomorrow, the college's cut-off hour, another 5 will join.

Otherwise I will have time for my own serious writing on The Gleaner, the resstless life of Ephraim Epstein. I refer you, regarding seriously writing, to my colleague, the novelist, writing coach and all 'round creative energizer Jacqui Lofthouse, who has an online support service and a free, encouraging weekly e-newsletter -- look her up, and tell her Susan sent you!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Promoting your courses

You know how it is when you are building up to writing something? Ideas, information, facts, conjectures, gaps in information, deadline looming like a black cloud on the horizon -- and finally, finally you actually start to write? That's where I am right now on my psychoanalytic psychology 3000 word paper; the relief at last of writing. Even though I have a long way to go and don't know exactly where I'm going, it's a relief.

But I took a break this afternoon to dash over to the college and collect flyers to promote my April-start Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey 5 week course. In fact, I interrupted my psych research reading last week for a precautionary check on enrolment level for the course. Eeeek! Only one person. Hence the emergency action.

So here we are: the brinkmanship of adult education, as always. Nowadays, with all the Further Education cut-backs, and more to come, one is lucky at all to be offering a course. As for expecting the college to promote it -- marketing and admin have their hands full just keeping major courses like EFL, GCSEs and A levels going, rebalancing their decreasing budgets and, often, interviewing for their own jobs as cuts continue.

However, the wish to creatively write is undying and most colleges, like mine, will try to offer some courses to meet this market, along with other perennial 'leisure' favourites like languages and art.

As a tutor, you now can rely less (if ever you could) on your institution promoting your course except for listing it in their major prospectus and on their website. So it is up to YOU to get flyers printed and distribute them. Maybe your place allows you to design your own (easy-peasy with computers for a creative person like you) with a pithy appealing blurb and the essential details.

Mine insists on their own logo and certain format parameters, so I used sweet persuasion to get marketing to update the black-type details (dates, code number) on the flyer they'd designed for the course in palmier days over a year ago. This was after I got the OK from my line manager.

I offered to repro it myself on the college's copier, or to bring it to repro myself. But they very kindly sent it to repro -- and I collected the 200 A5 flyers this afternoon. Very kindly (again) desk staff had put some flyers around the building, which I was going to do. I then walked to the nearby library and asked the desk to pin up a flyer on thier community board, and put a few in their brochures displayer.

You need to learn how things work in your area, make contacts, do your own PR. In my case I walked further on to Town Information with 100 or so -- some for their brochures table, the rest I asked (verbally and via a note) for their central service to send to the libraries around the borough.

As well as flyers at the college and local libraries, here is how else I am promoting the course:
  • asked the departmental administrator to email students on the two writing courses I substitute taught in February. [Have to take care re data protection, so I could not do it myself]
  • asked marketing to flash the course on the lobby promotional screens
  • will email my old writing students who have given me their e-addresses and permission to contact them from time to time. Though they may not want me or this course again, they can forward the info
  • will email my psych classmates -- unlikely, but as this course draws on archetype, springing from Jung, some may be interested, or might forward
  • will take flyers to my art workshop group; they are and they know creativity-interested people

This short course enrolled very well for its last three runs, ever since we changed it from afternoon to evening. The fee is very reasonable, the time slot works, the subject and angle appeal -- so it should enrol. Absolute minimum due to the financial situation is 12. Well, good news today is enrolment is up 100% since last week... so now there are 2 on the course. Hmmmm. Fingers crossed and flyers flying, tune in a month from now -- will Heroes run or not?

As usual, I take a break from blogging about teaching creative writing while we are on term breaks. I'll be back 19 April. If you are new or recent to this blog you can go through earlier entries (over 70) to find exercises, tips and ideas to help you in the meanwhile. And there's always my book, Creative Writing: the Matrix. I'm standing by to send it to you for just £10. See my website for more info.

Monday, 15 March 2010

A travel writing class... the 3 further senses exercise

Continuing the Writing with the 8 Senses exercise begun in the last blog entry... After sight, sound, taste, smell, touch are the 3 I have invented or discovered along the way. In any writing, including travel writing, conveying these senses can make the experience all the more vivid.

As described previously, after explaining and giving a few examples of each sense I allow a minute or so for the students to think back to their chosen travel destination experience and jot a few memories of this sense. Then I move on to introduce the next sense. This 'turns over the soil' as it were, of the experience. I reassure them that they won't use all of these recollections, but the exercise stirs the memory of the experience to keep it at hand.

Kinetic -- By this I mean body position: awkward, comfy, stretched, cramped, turned, straight... Jot some memories of your travels, for instance:
  • crouching in a corner of the pickup truck with the other hikers' back-packs pressing into your spine; spreadeagled, luxuriating in the acreage of a king sized bed...

Inner/Visceral -- Similar to both touch and kinetic, but interior sensing in body organs, gut reactions: churning stomach, tight throat, full bladder, scratchy eyes, prickling scalp, gooseflesh, genitals responding (or not). Recall:

  • the leaden weight of the crepes I shouldn't have eaten on Brighton Pier; the release of the band of tension in my thighs as the shiatsu-master's thumbs got to work

Time -- This is a bit ephemeral, but I mean awareness of differences in a place and experience to do with night/day, evening; light, shadow. Also, time creeps, time whizzes...

  • Think of Monet's series of Rouen Cathedral paintings -- stone precise and beige, rosy pink and blurred, blue and yellow... how it changes through the day. Also -- the forever when you are waiting for the wine and moules to appear, the blink of time in which the bowl fills up with empty black mussel shells.

Now... now can they write?? No! One more exercise, one of my absolute favourites, #1 in my Writer's Toolkit, page 19 in the book: Bubble Chart. As it says there, and as with 8 Senses it can stand alone as an exercise, but for this class I used the students' chosen travel writing subject as the central focus. Many people know of and use this 'spider chart' method, but a surprising number don't know it. The magic is that it can stimulate ideas and directions, or if one has too many of those it can help to corral and organise them.

In this case I explained that they all now had lots of rich sense descriptions ready, but a travel article needs narrative, too. So focus here on events, anecdotes, things that happened.

I demonstrated on the white board, using Varanasi -- in a circle in the middle of the board. And then (sorry blog-readers, my e-skills aren't up to reproducing this here), dashing out all around this word, splashed down everything I could think of that I experienced --

  • exhilarating threading through the crowds down to the Ganges, the placid brown cow crossing the road amidst mad traffic, the seat above the crowd as evening came on, the bells, fire and smoke of the priests, the 4 am wakeup, my puja offering -- sank, 2nd offering, marigolds, rose petals, rubbish in the Ganges, the families dipping in, the little boy being dried down by his parents, the old man swimming off, the sun finally rising, my blessing...

Well, actually I didn't put that much on the board, I've just indulged myself here. It's their class. And this basic creative writing exercise was the final stir before I said... Now choose one of the events or experiences and write a sentence or two or a paragrph to begin to describe it...

...and that's the beginning of your article. It was now about 10.30 (class started at 9.30), so I said they could continue to write, or go for a break and come back to write... and we'd write until 11.10, and then read out, if they wished. Or talk about the experience.

Lo and behold, only 3 or 4 (out of 13) students went for a break right away. Over 15 minutes some popped out and came back. Then all continued writing. And at the appointed hour 11 students read out -- some excellent pieces, two of them I would deem ready to submit for publication, many others vivid and colourful... and all were very well pleased with themselves.

And so, the travel writing class ended. There's more I could have said and done -- I have taught travel writing as a 5 week course; also as a 4 week insert in a year-long professional writing and creative writing courses. But for a substitute class, I was well pleased too!

Mentioned earlier, but here at last is the link to my friend Cathy Smith's website with details of her travel writing book

Monday, 8 March 2010

A travel writing class... and then the 8 senses exercise

We are about half an hour into the 2 hour class (see previous two blog entries), warmed, travel writing ideas in our heads, informed a little about styles and approaches to travel articles. Now at last the class is closer to actual writing.

But I hold them back just a wee bit longer to, as I explained to a query, stir things, loosen the soil. (The doubting or untrusting student; there's usually one in every class.) Besides helping to remain loose and freely creative, this exercise cum lecture could even be seen as adding compost. It is my Writing with the 8 Senses excercise/lecture -- it is in my Creative Writing: the Matrix book and I use it with every new group I meet, the senses being essential to vivid, rich writing.

But this time, for the first time, I wove it right into the travel writing at hand. The exercise can stand alone (see the book), but now, I did it as staged questions, as I talked through each sense. An 'applied exercise' if you like. And we saw/heard in the travel article examples how the senses bring a destination and experience alive.

The first instruction is to chose one travel place from the list earlier (see blog of 15 Feb) that you want to write about today... choose it by gut feel, it doesn't matter which, just the one that calls to you most right now.

And here we go through the senses, the 5 usual ones and 3 I have invented, or rather, discovered. I sometimes invite the class to call out a sense as we go along to cover the usual 5.

Sight -- With your travel place in mind, jot down some of the sights that come to you. Not just general pictures, but specifics, if you can, and not forgetting colours, corners, shapes, textures, flaws, visual rhythms, like
  • the series of creamy arches at the villa, the operatically flaking stucco of a building in Venice, the missing chinks of pointing in a brick wall...
I give them a minute or two to do this jotting, and then move on to the next sense. I allow this time after each sense (but won't repeat that for you here in this blog).

Sound -- Jot down the sounds of the place. Not just the memorable
  • call of the muzzein, ringing of bells, plashing of fountain... but also see if you can recall other small or background sounds: children's laughter from out of sight, draft of lager filling up, drone of plane overhead...

Taste -- Food's always good for evoking the here-&-now, what tastes did you encounter in this place? Jot some down, and remember the temperature and feel of food in the mouth as well as taste. And try to capture a taste new to you (and readers)...

  • it was like thin, moist, eggy bread pudding, with a clear amber-brown syrup tasting half-way to brown sugar and the rest of the way to Vermont. (Trying to do American Challah French Toast with maple syrup, from my trip to New York City last week.)

Smell -- Like taste, recall some smells of the place both familiar and unknown and indescribable. Like my taste sample above, you may have to try new combinations of the familiar to convey a new experience. Also -- don't forget the negatives...

  • the whiff of sewage, the iron tang of the water, the cellar's mustiness

Touch -- Now, remember some of the physical feelings of the travel and place. Not only hot/cold, rough/smooth but things that touch you (breeze, raindrops, rim of a glass) and things you touch (yak's coat, palm trunk, kelim rug)

Okay, guess what -- I'm going to leave you at a cliff-edge for the three 'invented' senses. Wot a meanie I am. But this blog entry is long enough, and I am on deadline as editor of the British Haiku Society newsletter. So tune in next week!

A little note re Comments -- nice to feel read and appreciated. A couple of emails, too, saying how useful the blog is -- keep 'em coming, share the experience! However, I still won't publish the oriental comments I'm getting because I don't know what they say. Also, I had to remove a nice comment that had its own link attached promoting another education-related website -- sorry, no can do. I will only put links in my blog to sites I have looked at and deemed appropriate to the subject of teaching creative writing, or sometimes of writing itself, but they have to be spot on-target, relevant and vetted by me.

Monday, 22 February 2010

A travel writing class... continued

There we are, 25 minutes into the two hours, we're underway in this substitute creative writing class with travel writing the subject (see last week's blog). Students now have ideas buzzing round in their heads and I feel well comfortable and focussed. Time for the lecture part, and here's the gist of it.

It's important to think about where or to whom you are writing about your travels. Different outlets have different styles, and different lengths, so this affects what and how you might write. For example, I looked at the weekend's newspaper supplements and found these...

... and I read out the openings of 3 or 4 travel articles which were first person, lively, involving. Here is just one example,
When I found myself in a canoe on a huge wilderness lake in Prince Albert National Park, Northern Saskatchewan, sweating and swearing, neck and back stiff with pain, I blamed Richard Attenborough. I never would have known about Grey Owl if he had not resurrected one of his
childhood heroes and made a film about him. (Actually this is an article of a few years ago, by my friend Cathy Smith, whose travel writing how-to book I will talk about later in this blog.)

So you can see that what newspapers and magazines mainly want are a narrative style and the writer's personal experience... the more fun, or amazing, or different or even painful, the better. These pieces are often 800-900 words, sometimes up to 1200... (you need to do a rough count if this will be your target). The length, of course, affects how much of the adventure you can fit in.

Still sticking with the newspapers I moved on to another kind of article opening, the factual. Here is one example of several beginnings I read out:

The Romans invaded Britain in AD 43. It took thousands of soldiers six years to build Hadrian's Wall and the purpose was to mark the boundaries of the great Roman Empire. (Cathy again; walking Hadrian's Wall is the subject of the piece.)

Besides history, geography or mythology, statistics or cultural facts etc can make intriguing openings.

Moving on from print media to cyberspace, I spoke only about one outlet I personally know -- but there must be loads out there: up 2 u to find!! But have a look at Suite 101 which will take you right to Cathy Smith's list of articles... it's a huge site covering lots of subjects and it does pay contributing writers (pennies per click though, you won't get rich this way... )

Point to note with Suite 101 or any online writing is that pieces must be short -- like 350 words. So they tend to be pithy... not so experiential. A bit less fun to write?

Another kind of travel writing is the service piece -- online and in print -- which might be a round-up of ski resorts or city visits or B&Bs in a region etc. Or articles about travelling and the travel business. These are usually written by travel journalists, not worth trying for at this stage.

BUT OF COURSE there is the thought of your own blog! My cousin Lyn in Australia publishes her gorgeous world travel photos and 'journal' in a blog... lots of people do. And here, the personal experience narration will make your blog an involving, exciting -- as well as informative -- read.

So, back to our writing, and my assumption that you want to have fun writing and sharing your travel experience(s), which we will soon be doing. But first we need to take a moment to think about that word experiential, which means thinking about the senses. I am going to take you through a series of questions to loosen up the soil and help you to get WRITING WITH THE 8 SENSES.

ahhh... but this 10 minute marketing lecture is long enough for one blog entry; senses to be continued in 2 weeks, when I return from my travels -- to The Big Apple and to North Yorkshire.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A travel writing class

So why not take you right through the two hour creative writing class that went so well (mentioned last week)? The subject was travel writing. Here goes...
On my class plan (I always write one out, to keep me focussed and on track), I listed the following Learning Outcomes/Objectives:

  • To list and develop travel writing ideas
  • To consider outlets & styles of travel writing
  • To practice vivid sense-experience travel writing
  • To begin a travel article

P.S. You should know that I write those objectives AFTER I have thought and doodled up my ideas for filling the 2 hours with a good pacing of exercises, interaction and straight lecture. Once the draft ideas are tightened I can see that they add up to sensible "objectives" (teaching jargon..., but actually, it helps)

5 mins to intro myself and what we will do and ascertain that they do have a break, when & how (as a substitute I wanted to fit into their patterns, not impose mine -- might make them unhappy...)

Jumped right in and gave them 5 minutes (or less) to LIST 5 PLACES YOU HAVE BEEN TO AND WANT TO WRITE ABOUT... that is, would like to share, tell people about. Someone asked, and my answer was, Yes, as well as holiday places they might be a place you know well, like one you used to live in or visit every year; can even be places right here in your own home area.

When I glanced around to see that most had a list, or at least a list of 3 places, moved right on to CHOOSE ONE, one that speaks to you right now, and SHARE WITH YOUR NEIGHBOR for 5 minutes, then SWAP AND THE OTHER SHARES for 5 minutes. The task each time is for the listener to ASK QUESTIONS. Note-taking isn't necessary, but do, both of you, notice what questions are asked... what do people need and want to know?

The numbers were initially uneven, so I partnered a young woman who had been to Jerusalem just this Christmas. I didn't get to share my Nepal trip with her, because a latecomer arrived and became her partner. It can be hard to join in a chatting exercise as tutor because half your attention has to be on the rest of the class and the clock... Got to remind all to swap roles midway.

Then, 5 minutes for REFLECTIVE NOTES. Pulling them back from the chatter is a challenge! But, hey, they're having fun. This is a little space to calm down and jot down what you spoke of, and to note the questions and what your listener wanted to know, what you wanted to know. (I didn't get round to mentioning it directly, but this brings out the famous 5 Ws of journalism -- Who, What, Where, Why, When -- the keys to clarity and communication.)

It's about 20-25 minutes into the class, and they are well 'warmed'. I'm feeling comfortable and they are fizzing with thoughts. Time now for me to talk at them.... but this blog has gone on long enough, I have to get on with Ephraim (and my morning caffeine fix), so the Travel Writing Lecture, on openings and styles, will continue next week...

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Postcards for the edge

The substituting for two classes last Tuesday went really well!

In fact I will be so unblushing that I will here quote a comment made in the class at the end of the session by one of the 13 students in the course which has been running since September:

'I think this is the best writing we have all done in class this whole year.'

What a fine compliment. 11 of the 13 read out, and all were good, with a handful so rich and smooth they were publishable; the others were excellent starts just needing to be finished. Sometimes magic does happen.

I think I will make you wait for details on what I did (and what they did) til next time. Instead: the other class, which was a workshopping class. Well, good thing I did bring a 'just in case', as I said last week, because, as opposed to the team leader's assumption, the 2 hour class was not in the habit of workshopping for the entire 2 hours.

So, after the one scheduled writer's slot (that was fun; as well as two stanza'd poems, she'd done a page of 8 haiku, as happenstance has it one of my special areas of knowledge), I provided a stimulus for writing. Introduced thus,

'I suppose you've done lots of excercises with postcards in this class.'
This met with mystifcation -- no! Strange, I'm not sure how you can inspire writing without postcards somewhere pretty soon along the line. I'd chosen some of my weirder ones, assuming they'd have done character and senses work using postcards previously.
The task was to use the picture to write a character's dream. I had been going to do the Postcard Ambush (from my book -- you drop a second card on them as they are mid-flow, to additionally weave into or shift the dream, as dreams do...). But as this was all new to these students, it would have completely thrown them, so they had a one-picture dream.
Of course a dream can take you anywhere -- and so these did, from a fast-running river to a dentist's chair, from a castle garden to a 5-door'd hallway...

Monday, 1 February 2010

Eeek, substitute teaching travel writing tomorrow

Ooops, got so carried away with the successful outflow on my great grandfather Ephraim's story that I forgot to blog here this weekend. And now my team leader has just rung to ask me to substitute two classes tomorrow.

Fortunately one is Advanced Workshopping, so I am presuming no prep -- but maybe I'll bring some postcards along for a simple stimulus exercise, in case I'm wrong about that... or in case the workshoppers fail to bring work.

The other is Travel Writing as topic for a Ways In to Writing course -- don't know if they've had any input on it yet. Will assume no -- anyway, my intro to it will have my flavour, the regular tutor's will have had his. Yummy topic, no problems getting people excited about travel experiences... then just have to segue them into writing.

I haven't written/published travel for ages, no longer looking to do that, so I'd better glance at yesterday's travel supplements. And I just browsed through my mate Cathy Smith's site -- she's got 285 travel articles on it! Got to suggest students think about cyber as well as print markets, and maybe their own travel blogs.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Some ways to open a story & avenues for publication

Hope you didn't forget the Mslexia short story competition, if you are female, that is. Closes 25th January - tomorrow! Here's the link, but if you've missed it, never mind... on the website you can find exercise ideas in their archived monthly workshops -- another good source for you!

Some ways to open a story, that's the exercise I put on my website for this term, which I realise now I haven't yet mentioned. So if you hit this blog first, or if you haven't recently revisited Creative Writing: the Matrix website, this is the link that will take you right to the goodies. It will get your students pushing and exploring. Dialogue? Landscape? Interior? Character? Cleverly, you can impose your will on them, and expand this exercise to a full, say, 45 minutes, or keep it shorter.

PS if this is your first visit to this blog from the website then you've seen the Sample Inside page for this term -- sorry to repeat! But then if you look at the labels for this blog which began 2 years ago, you'll find a backlog of exercises, ideas and tips -- welcome!

Other avenues for publication is the tutor tip for the term, which brings us neatly to paragraph 1 above. At some point -- and I usually wait til half-way through a course -- you will probably want to stop and explain the world of publication to students. You can make a series of this, a real study looking at publishers' sites and catalogues etc, which adds the kind of market and media reality to creative writing that some institutions insist on these days.

I talk about that in the book, but the freebie tip is about encouraging students to enter competitions, explaining their variations and values. Value as a teaching/learning experience is deadlines, presentation and the experience of not winning (good practice in rejections) or maybe... winning!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

e-homework, do you?

First of all, try this:

Sun column real reason tip of our own... Our Committee lost our wisdom teeth
and an unfinished of free capacity.
Glass Note... a gentle rain, early sense of a shaft of light.
old piece of flooding. sky and add Yes we still free.

My last blog entry received a message in Japanese (I assume?) characters. No idea what it says, but Google Language Tools gives the above as 5th of 212 translations. Daren't publish the characters as sent, for who can know (in my lack of language) what it says. One title says Hiroshi customers, the next says Mushrooms Mushrooms.

So, sorry to that commenter, but thanks for the venture into Google poetry. Another translation starts: Pine, wearing morning bath, standing. Another, Sung-dyed piece of yellow gold. Mmm, nice. I do write haiku, so maybe that's the source.

Meanwhile, MoiraG commented back a few entries on the joys of being a student as an aid to teaching creative writing (O Yes). And that set me wondering about 'homework' in our area. My daughter is completing her doctorate in clinical psychology and has to hand in everything in hardcopy AND online -- so they can do accurate wordcount (and maybe plagiarism checks). But that's university for ya. A colleague of mine in adult ed does allow students to send work by email attachment. Myself, I refuse e submissions -- what do you do?

Here are my reasons, as written to a student at the end of last term (having announced and repeated my policy earlier in the course):

(a) why should I have to go to the work, ink and paper-invest of printing it out in my place and my time when I have so much other work and time at the pc and printer

(b) it allows student to send in any old time and feel he/she will get feedback, whereas the time of a tutor at home is spent on preparing for class, and doing feedback on student's work in a planned time to fit the tutor's schedule (the tutor's own writing, other work and life activities)

(c) writers need to learn to meet deadlines and present to parameters set by editors/competitions etc professionally. ie, 'play the game'

(d) it is good writing practice for a writer to print out in hardcopy to critique and revise his/her own work -- to be able to see it whole.

I always only do hand-written feedback on the page, by the way -- when I have once or twice done on screen I end up explaining and nearly editing by way of explaining... can't help it, I'm a writer, I get sucked in. No sir, on the page, puleeeeze.

So am I an old meanie, or what?