Shoes and $&!££y First Drafts: The Alchemy of Teaching Creative Writing
I teach creative writing both at an adult education centre and for The Open University. I approach all my classes with the same two goals: to pass on what I wish I’d known when I first started writing creatively, and to help new writers get in touch with their subconscious from which all creativity flows. Over the years I’ve witnessed magic in both my own and my students’ writing and lives.
Raymond Carver wrote: “It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.” And that “a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing- a sunset or an old shoe- in absolute and simple amazement.”
We live in a text-based world which isn’t necessarily conducive to creative writing. We write – text messages, emails, facebook, work reports – daily. But is this “creative writing”?
For me, there are two components to creative writing.
The Craft = ways of doing (i.e. the nuts & bolts)
The Art = ways of seeing (or perceiving – i.e. your view of the world).
Often, in order to access the “Art” of the process a good start is to move away from the keyboard. With freewriting by hand you’re outwitting your inner critic or editor, and telling your subconscious that you’re writing creatively. I like to get my students to free-write with pen and paper, to draw with crayon, to write in the dark – to dance and sing and pay attention to their writing. And to also develop the close observation, the being specific, the employment of all five senses, the showing with scenes, the day-dreaming.
I’m a big fan of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones, her timed freewriting exercises, and the writing of “$&!££y first drafts”, through which you can discover your voice, help your characters take on lives of their own, and channel flow and natural rhythms. Freewriting can take you to a trance-like state, and to where magic and alchemy can happen. You begin to dream your writing. It comes and finds you (so do carry a small notebook and pen with you for when that happens). Your subconscious works away at plot problems, comes up with solutions, with new avenues, and with terrific unforced and specific prose and – Halleluah – before you know it, you’re a writer. Teaching creative writing is such a privilege. I’m often humbled by students who have a breakthrough, or by those who say their lives are changed and enriched forever because writing is now in it. Most recently, a student confided that – after years of trying IVF and all but giving up – she felt “something unlock, and that she now has her long-dreamed-for baby. She’s convinced this is all down to a practice of free-writing. And who am I to say otherwise?
Magic can, and does happen. Not always. But when it does … it’s … magic! All I ask of my students is to be open, to be brave, to trust in the process and their own innate story-telling abilities – and to let go of the wanting everything to be perfect. Embrace those shitty first drafts!
And so, thanks to all who have shared the magic, for those who are writing magic, and for the magic yet to come. Oh, and do start staring at those old shoes!
Rosemary Dun is a published writer of short stories and poetry. She has performed poetry and run workshops at literary festivals. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and teaches creative writing at Degree level for The Open University. Rosemary’s latest novel is with her literary agent ready for submission (good luck gal!).
Contact Rosemary via her website for mentoring or tutoring www.rosemarydun.co.uk