11 May

Can Creative Writing be Taught?

Posted in Teaching, Writing

Yesterday, an article in the Guardian raised an important question: can creative writing be taught?  The article listed opinions from various authors, many of whom believe that creative writing degrees are moot because the writing process can’t be taught.  Others believe that writing can be taught, but only by writers who have already been published because they know how to write something of publication quality.  As a writer and teacher, I’m not sure I agree with most of the authors interviewed in that article.  Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

The best way for a writer to learn the craft is to read.  I think a lot of people underestimate the power of reading.  As a creative writing teacher, I incorporate readings from literature into all of my lectures.  My students read something–either a short story or a poem or an essay–for every class.  I believe that writers who don’t read are doing themselves and their work a disservice.

Not all great writers make great teachers.  Some of my best writing teachers have not been big-name authors.  In fact, one of my best teachers had not published her first novel until after I had taken two or three classes with her, yet she taught me more about writing than many other more prominent novelists.

While the Master’s degree can be great for some writers, you can get a lot of the same benefits on your own.  I’m a firm believer in do-it-yourself, otherwise I wouldn’t have devised the DIY MFA.  There’s no reason why writers can’t get many of the benefits of a Master’s degree, even without enrolling in school.  You can do the literature study on your own by reading with a writer’s eye, and a great deal of craft can be learned through practice.  Connecting with other writers in conferences, critique groups or online can be a great way to gain perspective on your writing.  Most importantly, just write!

What do you think?  Can creative writing be taught?


14 Sep

Calling all NYC Writers

Posted in Teaching

News Update:

I’m teaching at 10-week fiction workshop on the Upper East Side in NYC.  Classes will be on Mondays from 6:30-9pm and begin next Monday (Sept. 20).

There are still some spots open so if you’re interested and you live in NYC, check it out.  If you know other writers in New York who might be interested, feel free to pass on the link.

For more information please visit Upper East Side Writing and to register for the class just fill out the online form.

One comment »

22 Jun

Advice About Teaching…

Posted in MFA and Beyond, Teaching

…that also applies to the writing life.

Not too long ago, I took a class called “Teaching of Writing” as part of my MFA.  What with graduation and looking for teaching gigs, I promptly put away my notes from that class and forgot all about them.  This weekend, while glancing through my notebook, I came across notes from the final “Teaching of Writing” class and I realized that a lot of the advice the professor gave us applies not only to teaching, but also to building a fulfilling writing life.

Here are some lessons I learned in that class that can also apply to writing.

1.  Say “yes” to every opportunity.  Just as freelance teachers need to be open to opportunities, so should a writer.  Sometimes an opportunity may not seem like what you’re looking for, but it can lead to something.  And that something might lead to something else and somewhere down the line, you might wind up finding exactly the type of writing what you wanted to do.   

2.  Teach any subject (at least once). Similarly, as a writer it’s important to be open to writing any type of piece, at least once.  Who knows, maybe you’ll find that you love writing a how-to piece just as much as that paranormal romance novel.  The only caveat with this point is the “at least once” part.  If you find after you’ve tried something that it’s really not your thing, look for something else that’s more your style.  It’s easy to get sucked into a niche and once you’re there, it can be very difficult to break out. 

3.  Build a CV. This one’s a no-brainer.  As with any field, you need to show credentials, but in writing this can be tricky, what with submissions being so competitive.  I’ve found the only solution to this problem is: submit, submit, submit.  And when you’re done submitting, submit some more. 

4.  Do it for free (at first). There are lots of volunteer opportunities out there.  For starters, a lot of literary magazines (especially small ones) don’t pay for publications and writers submit simply for the joy of having their name out there in the world.  Blogging, being a guest blogger on someone’s site, all these things are ways to get your writing “out there” even if you’re just doing it out of a love of literature and words. 

5.  Be versatile.  In teaching, this means looking for scenarios where you might be able to teach writing in unconventional venues.  This same type of creative problem-solving can be helpful in expanding your publishing prospects.  Try to think of places outside the norm where your writing might fit.  Maybe your short story about a grandmother teaching a child to knit could be perfect for a knitting magazine. 

6.  Understand the way they run things…  and prepare yourself accordingly.  This is especially true when submitting your work to literary magazines or agents.  Each place has its own way of doing things and you need to play by the rules.  After all, the last thing you want is for some intern or first reader to toss your work in the reject pile just because your formatting is weird or you didn’t include an SASE. 

7.  Make your 100% better than 100% so you’re allowed to have a bad day.  This is especially true for writers who have blogs.  It’s important to keep the content consistent and strong, to give yourself the flexibility to have a “bad posting day” or skip a day when you need to do so.

    Any other teachers out there?  If so, do you have advice to someone who’s teaching her first live Writing Through the Senses class today?  How about teaching advice that also translates to writing?

    Wish me luck!  And don’t forget to check in tomorrow for our first online WTTS class.


    18 Jun

    Sneak Preview

    Posted in Teaching, Writing Challenge, Writing Through The Senses

    It occurred to me that perhaps some readers out there may be wondering what this Writing Through the Senses thing is all about.  In light of this, I decided to give you all a taste of what this course will be like.

    Over the next five weeks, we’ll be talking about the five senses and using them as a jumping off point to spark creativity and kick-start some writing projects.  Each week will focus on one of the five senses, using it to enrich our writing and deepen our understanding of craft.

    Week 1: Sound–Achieving a Sense of Focus
    We start the series of classes using music to set the mood for story-telling.  We will discuss the musicality of language and how it can affect tone.  We will experiment with sound-based language tools to achieve a desired effect in our writing.

    Week 2: Sight–Gaining a Sense of Curiosity

    This week will be all about imagery.  By using colors and visual images to inspire our writing, we will develop a better understanding of metaphor.  We will also study how key details can both further the story and build character.

    Week 3: Touch–Developing a Sense of Intuition

    This week will focus on how we can make the ordinary become extraordinary through writing.  Touch–perhaps the most immediate of the senses–is all about intuition and the focus will be on artfully channeling that instinct.

    Week 4: Taste–Creating a Sense of Playfulness

    Food is fun; it has a sense of humor.  This week is all about “finding the funny” in our writing.  We’ll examine the mechanics of parody and discuss literature that is just plain silly.  The point of this week is to make writing fun.

    Week 5: Smell–Reclaiming a Sense of Nostalgia

    Ah, smell… the most elusive of the senses.  And yet, of all the senses it is the one most closely tied to memory.  That is what this week will be all about: getting to the core of our memories and capturing them on the page.

    Intrigued?  Want to be part of the challenge?  Just go to Writing Through the Senses and follow the instructions in that post to join.

    One comment »

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