Dave Lordan is a man on a mission. He is determined to professionalise the practice of teaching creative writing in Ireland, as it is in the UK, America and various other countries around the world. He’ll be delivering a six-week course at the Irish Writers’ Centre to help creative writing tutors improve their ability to deliver creative writing classes in school and community settings.
I attended Lordan’s one-day “crash course” on the subject back in March and it’s inspired me to change my approach, particularly when it comes to doing creative writing workshops with children. Lordan’s watchword is “interactive.” His workshops are high energy and aim to bring out the storyteller in everyone, even if they are not natural writers.
Talk out the story first
Writing is daunting for many children – and adults. Engage people’s interest and warm up their brains by talking through the story first. For example, you might want to create a lead character who’s a wizard. Ask people to give the wizard a name. Have a brainstorm about superpowers that they think are really cool and assign one to the wizard. Write down people’s ideas on a flip chart or an interactive whiteboard, and they’ll start to see the stories emerge. This approach will get people into a storytelling frame of mind, and they’ll see that they’re free to be as wacky as they want.
Tell stories in other ways
Not everyone is a natural writer, but everyone is a natural storyteller, so help people find other ways to tell their stories. Doing this is particularly useful for people with low levels of literacy, mixed-ability groups of children and people who are doing a creative writing workshop out of obligation rather than because they want to. Encourage people to tell stories using drawings, songs, oral storytelling and more modern mediums like blogging and video. This will tap into their own natural abilities.
Respond to your participants
Tailor your approach to the needs and interests of the group you’re teaching. If you have a group of sports mad boys, have them tell stories about soccer matches or meeting their favourite rugby player. If you have a group of older people, they may enjoy sharing memories of their local area. The group’s interests will become clear during the warm up when you’re getting to know them. Don’t be afraid to ditch your careful plans and shape your workshop according to what they tell you.
I’ve always felt my own approach to teaching creative writing has been a little on the academic side, which is fine for people with a high level of education or who are already comfortable with writing, but may be a struggle for people who aren’t naturally academic. I’m hoping that incorporating these techniques will make my workshops more fun – for me and the children.
If you’re a creative writing tutor, how do you incorporate interaction into your creative writing exercises? And if you’ve taken creative writing classes, have you ever had a tutor who took an interactive approach and how did you find it?