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