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 http://www.travelarticles.co.uk/info/info.htm#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.