After many years as a creative writing student, I’ve recently had the opportunity to teach. I’ve run workshops for adults as part of Leeds Big Bookend, at Inkwell Arts and in a women’s prison. I’ve also mentored writers one-to-one via Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and freelance. It’s been a little scary and a lot of fun. The biggest surprise of all – cheesy as it sounds – is how much it’s taught me.
This Is Not About You. Duh. It’s about the students. It’s about giving them the keys to their own creative treasure chests, cellars, [insert your metaphor of choice here]. You do this by being open and supportive, by not sneering if one student happens to find your favourite story – which you painstainingly photocopied and stapled – ‘stupid and pointless.’ If you arrive at class worrying that you don’t know everything, if you’re feeling a bit meh, it doesn’t matter so long as you remember this.
Be As Creative In The Classroom As You Are On The Page. As with writing, lessons/workshops work best with a deft mixture of planning and spontaneity. Going in with no clue as to what you’ll do is not advisable, yet neither is sticking rigorously to your plan: some of my liveliest of sessions have occurred when a comment made by a student or an unexpected object in a room has sparked an idea for a discussion point or an exercise which turned out to be far more engaging than what I’d scribbled in my notebook. This is the joy of teaching outside of the Ofsted-and-a-million-other-byzantine-rule-bound school environment!
Be Generous, But Not Too Generous. Share what you know about the craft, but don’t be afraid to give reading recommendations and to direct students to good sites, organisations and literary events they may be interested in and which will encourage them to submit or share their work in different forms.
If students ask you questions along the lines of ‘how did you get an agent/publisher’ be as honest and open as you can. As someone who has only recently got a book deal and who still feels very much at the beginning of my career, it’s not hard for me to remember how impenetrable and faraway the world of publishing can feel. Yet it’s important not to say yes to every request for you to read every student’s backlog of stories/vampire bat novel series, especially not for free. After all, you’ve got to safeguard some time for your own writing, right?
Basically – and if you are the kind of easy-going anxiety-free writer then good for you: you can ignore this – it’s ok to stop worrying for 5 minutes and enjoy it.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like any workshops, mentoring or editing. I won’t even worry about it! 🙂