Can I teach creative writing?

I’ve been asked that very question today and it is a pertinent one. When someone focuses on factual writing as I do, does it mean they can’t write fiction? Possibly (though I do write short stories and poems; I’ve just not had any desire to really share them; some are quite personal).

Does it mean I can’t teach about fiction writing?

No, it doesn’t.

First, let’s take the assumption that there are massive differences between fiction and fact. Try writing four sentences, one of which is factual and the others which are fictitious. You will probably find it difficult to distinguish between the two.

Certainly, the books I’ve written recently have met a formula required by the publisher who commissioned them. In plain English, this means I was requested to write specific books for specific publication series. It is not the most exciting writing, for it requires massive amounts of self-discipline to write what others require from you. This is not simply getting up and procrastinating about ‘what shall I write today?’ or even ‘shall I bother writing today?’, it is more about researching and getting stuff done to meet a deadline. In that respect it is very much like a job.  However, on the plus side, there is no problem in finding a publisher.

 

However, I’m currently working on a book about Pamela Colman Smith. This is where fact meets fiction in interpreting biographical aspects of her life; I’ve been researching like a mad thing, and am obsessed by the outcome. Reader, I’ve bored my good friends close to death.

In writing this book, I’ve communicated with academics, I’ve been on holiday/fact finding mission on the Lizard, I’ve been to the archives at Smallhythe in Kent, I’ve been to the Bencoolen where she lived, I’ve chanted in a graveyard with psychic American visitors swinging pendulums, I’ve been to the Catholic diocesan archives in Exeter and chatted Catholicism (I’m not one) with a nun, and I even started learning to read the tarot. You get the drift. It has been a story in itself, if not quite total immersion. It isn’t finished but it soon will be.

This book, like any novel, will need clarity, a hook; I’m dealing with characters, and quite colourful ones at that. There is definitely a plot and indeed a plot twist. The only difference is that I’m not making this up, so I can’t control what happens. The book will require structuring and editing. Creative writing requires all this, too, as fiction isn’t just about writing a story.

Of course, all writing is creative.  Try writing your own biography in six words.

There’s all that and a bit more too, as teaching creative writing mainly requires teaching skills.

These I have in abundance from many years of teaching and supporting adults and young people in their studies. I have taught sociology, politics, history, psychology, community studies, women’s studies, reading, writing, grammar, punctuation, study skills, social skills, employment skills, and I have mentored students, too. To teach that little lot, I’ve had to learn a fair bit, so my five degrees have at times comes in useful. Those skills are generic, transferring from one field to another.

I haven’t written a published work of fiction, though of course I have written one. I have read an awful lot of books many of which have been classics, forever reads, brilliantly composed/constructed. My first class degree in literature also hopefully indicates I have some decent understanding of many literary genres and canons.

Dawn (middle right of Lorraine who is wearing black) at the Bencoolen with American visitors

More? Well, I’ve edited work – and that is a really tough one for most people.

So, thanks to the person who asked the question, making me pause to consider: can I teach creative writing?

Answer: yes, I darned well can.

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