This morning, I was greeted by an exciting email. It told me that 10 people had signed up for creative writing classes I was planning to give in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford and that this was enough for the classes to go ahead. I’ve been giving classes for a few years, but these are the first classes I will deliver under the umbrella of the local adult education provider, Waterford Wexford Education Training Board (for Irish readers, formerly known as Waterford VEC).
I’m delighted to have reached the target and I’m looking forward to the class, but I’m a little nervous too. I’m always a little nervous before I start, but I know the participants will be nervous too. It’ll take a few weeks before we’re fully comfortable with each other, but the barriers will eventually break down. The secret is to build a good relationship with your participants. When you do that, you’ll guarantee a fulfilling experience for both yourself and your participants.
Here are three ways that I will be building that rapport with the 10 participants who will turn up to that classroom tomorrow night.
It’s okay to be crap.
Everybody thinks their writing is crap, no matter how experienced they are. So I face that fear head on in the first class with an exercise called Write Shite, which I got from my own creative writing tutor. In this exercise, participants deliberately write a piece they consider to be crap. I also speak about the fact that there is no right or wrong with writing, and that can be scary, when we’re used to having a set method for doing our work. But it can also be liberating, as it means that no matter what you write, you can never be wrong.
Encourage them to talk
In the first few weeks, some people may not feel comfortable speaking out in class, so you can do activities which encourage people to talk naturally, so they don’t feel put on the spot. I do an activity called Typical Day, where people pair up, talk to each other about what they did today and then tell the group what their partner did. It gives people a chance to demonstrate their storytelling skills, but they’ll also get to know their classmates better, and they’ll feel more comfortable speaking in front of them.
Unleash the subconscious
Some people believe that all our great ideas rest in the subconscious layer of our minds, the one that fills our dreams with wacky images. To explore that idea, I ask the group to do 10 minutes of free writing, where they can write anything they like, though I give them a sentence to start off. Knowing that they can write anything they want, and that they don’t have to share it with anyone else, really sets them free.
What tricks do you as a creative writing tutor use to build rapport with participants? And if you’re part of a creative writing class, what do you think helps break the ice?