Three Ways to Build Relationships in Creative Writing Classes

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.

It's important to build a good rapport with creative writing students.
It’s important to build a good rapport with creative writing students.

 

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?

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Three Reasons to Love Blockbuster Novels

The death of novelist Jackie Collins at the weekend filled me with both sadness and nostalgia. Her novels, and those of contemporaries like Jilly Cooper and Shirley Conran (note their similar names!) were the delight of my adolescence. These novels may seem a little dated now; they had their heyday in the hedonistic ‘90s. But quite frankly, they left 50 Shades of Grey, well, in the shade. Their thick, glossy novels were filled with forbidden delights and offered the perfect escape route from grubby reality.

 Jackie Collins

Yes, there comes a time when you outgrow such novels, and as recession bit in the 1990s, it became tacky to write about the super rich with their super rich lifestyles. My own tastes turned to more literary works, but no literary masterpiece will ever give me the thrill these novels did, so I’ll always think of them with affection. This is my tribute to the old-fashioned blockbuster novel.

There are three reasons why these novels are such good reads, and linger in the popular imagination.

They’re Unashamedly Glamorous

All right, we’ll get it out of way. These novels featured lots of sex in glamorous locations, enjoyed by beautiful people. But everything about them was glamorous, the locations, the characters and particularly their clothes. Today’s chicklit can’t compare. Heading to the local on a Friday night for a tipple is nothing compared to being whisked off to St. Tropez in a helicopter for the weekend. These novels opened the door to exciting worlds, the worlds of fashion, sport, television, movies, music and wine making.

They’re Full of Exciting Plots

These are books that you race through in your thirst to know what happens next. There’s a scandal around every corner, and the authors skilfully drop hints to keep you hooked until the truth is gradually revealed. There are lots of dirty family secrets and wicked deeds to keep you entertained, and all the strands are tied up in a satisfying bow at the end.

The Dialogue Is Cracking

These authors are great at writing as they speak, and their dialogue reflects the speech patterns of real people. There’s also lots of it, and this keeps the story moving forward. Jilly Cooper is particularly good at writing dialogue; a speech and drama teacher I had at school actually recommended her for this. It’s hammy at times, crudely imitating the speech patterns of different nationalities, but it’s full of witty wordplay and zinging one liners. There are also lots of quotes from Shakespeare and the classics, so you learn as you go along too.

 

Who would get your vote as a top blockbuster novel, or novelist? And who out of today’s crop could be seen as a worthy successor?

Three Differences Between Blogs and Newsletters

I’m in the lucky position that people come up to me at meetings or on the street and say they love my blog. But further conversation reveals that they are in fact referring to my newsletter. It’s easy to confuse the two. Both are Internet based, both give out information intended to be useful, and both are forms of content marketing. But they are subtly different, and it’s important to know the difference between them, so you can use them effectively.

There are three distinctions to be drawn between the two

Structure Is Different: A blog is a full length article that centres on just one subject. The text is broken up with pictures and headings. A newsletter has snippets of information which are separate from each other, though they have a unifying theme. Pictures don’t tend to work as well on newsletters, because email browsers tend to block them. The snippets will have catchy headlines and may contain lengths to further articles or web pages.

Audience Is Different: A blog can be read by anyone on the Internet and may be included as part of a website to draw new customers to that website and to your services. A newsletter is sent by email to a mailing list of contacts you’ve already made, whether customers or potential customers. Ideally, you would aim to send it to 1,000 customers, to achieve a decent open rate and ultimate sales.

Content Is Different. A blog is largely information based. It tells people how to use your services, comments on trends in your industry or gives case studies of work you’ve done for customers. A newsletter is often centred on an attractive offer to reward customer loyalty, or may highlight a particular service you offer. Its tone may be more informal, as you’re communicating with people you already know in some way.

How do you distinguish between blogs and newsletters? Which do you find more useful in communicating with your customers?

Three Paid Writing Workshop Opportunities

You’ve had some success with your writing. You’ve been published, by a publisher or through your own efforts. You’ve decided you want to help others discover the joy can writing can bring through creative writing classes. You may even have hired a room and advertised your own classes. That’s a great place to start, but how can you expand your portfolio of creative writing workshops.

You can deliver creative writing classes in any organisation.
You can deliver creative writing classes in any organisation.

The best way to build your reputation as a creative writing tutor is to link with bigger organisations. They’ll promote your workshops to their databases of service users or customers, so you’ll have access to more students, and they’ll provide you with a venue and other facilities. You’ll be more likely to receive a fixed payment for your workshops, so you won’t be dependent on the number of people who enrol for remuneration. In general, you’ll be taken more seriously as a creative writing tutor if you can prove your track record working with other organisations.

So where are these elusive opportunities to be found? What’s the best way to approach these organisations and which are right for you?

Libraries

Libraries are very receptive to creative writing workshops, though their budget can be limited, as they’re funded by public money. They run them as part of larger themed events in their libraries, such as festivals that promote literacy or celebrate the positive aspects of ageing. Their staff are extremely proactive and will do everything they can to make sure they have what you need to run a successful workshop – even provide refreshments. They also have a wide pool of members, so getting the numbers for your workshops shouldn’t be a problem, especially since they’re usually free to participants.

Education Providers

If you’ve already started running evening creative writing workshops, the next natural step is to approach an organisation in your area which runs night classes. This may be a private college or a college run by a State organisation charged with delivering education to adults, such as the new Education and Training Boards in Ireland. You will be included in their brochure, but be sure to supplement that with your own promotion, so you won’t be buried in the brochure. Creative writing is a popular subject and may already be offered by that college, but you can find ways around it by offering classes in a particular genre of writing, such as crime fiction.

Festivals

Festivals in your local area are always looking for new ideas to fill their programmes, and some of them have budgets to pay for workshops. Arts festivals are the most natural fit, but you could approach organisers of other festivals whose theme fits with your writing, such as a heritage festival for writers of historical novels. You need to approach festival organisers start planning their events at least six months in advance, so bear that in mind. Also, you may be expected to take sole responsibility for your event: finding your venue, setting your own fees. But you’ll still be under their banner, so it’ll still boost your profile.

These observations are drawn from my own experience of running creative writing workshops for organisations. What have your own experiences been as a creative writing tutor working with organisations?

Three Wordy Ways to Enhance Your LinkedIn Profile

Recently, I polished up a LinkedIn profile for a client who was expanding his business and wanted to let people know what he could offer them. The skeleton of his LinkedIn profile was in place and there was good basic information about his roles and responsibilities, but I was able to add flesh to the bones. A lot of people find it difficult to know what to write in their LinkedIn profile. It can feel like blowing your own trumpet, but that’s the whole point of having a LinkedIn profile.

Write a cracking LinkedIn profile.
Write a cracking LinkedIn profile.

Your LinkedIn profile is your shop window, giving employers and/or potential clients the opportunity to find out how you fit with their goals and what you can offer them. There are lots of practical things you can do enhance your profile, like updating it regularly and making sure all relevant sections are filled, but I will concentrate on three word-based enhancements you can make.

Summarise Your Skills

Be sure to use of the Summary box at the start of your profile to outline the skills and attributes that you have honed throughout your career and/or studies. Like the executive summary on a CV, this is your chance to grab the attention of a busy employer or client. It may be the only part of your profile they read, so make it a good one. Don’t just say that you’re trustworthy, say that you were entrusted to lock the safe at night or transfer cash to the bank. Also, word your summary in terms of what you can offer. Don’t just say you’re a team player, say that you’re able to bring people together and help them cooperate with each other.

Enhance Your Job Description

When you’re listing the different roles you occupied or currently occupy, don’t just write a list of duties. Highlight the skills you drew on and how those skills benefited the organisation you worked for. Instead of saying you were in charge of safety, say that you implemented company safety policy and ensured staff safety at work. Don’t just say

Choose Dynamic Wording

Don’t just rely on words like did, made, ran or had. They’re lazy and they’re not specific enough. Instead, choose words that convey a sense of action and accomplishment, words like organised, implemented or ensured. Also, cwhoose words that convey the attributes you bring to a role, like calm, passionate, creative or meticulous.

What have you done to make your LinkedIn profile stand out? For what it’s worth, here’s mine.