As a professional writer and storyteller mainly but not exclusively in the field of drama, I was often approached to teach creative writing. Early in my career I was not sure it could be taught, in fact I’m still not. I think it can be learnt but not necessarily taught. Let me be more specific: although the mechanics of writing (yes the nuts and bolts) can be taught, the building blocks as it were, the art – the inspiration – is up to whoever is writing. There are elements and theories, techniques and formulae that can be revealed and analysed, a teacher can even discuss how the writer can make what they want to say more effective, how their story could be more enthralling – but mainly an experienced writer is there as a guide who knows a bit about the territory and can take the student through the terrain pointing out the pitfalls and canyons to avoid. There are techniques that can be passed on to help the student tap their inspiration, find their muse, but the actual writing is for them to learn, not so much a teacher to teach. I learnt about writing by just doing it and doing it, through the night, night after night over a period of about a year. Practise, practise, practise. I learnt a lot. However guidance on my journey with some useful comments and feedback from an experienced practitioner would have been invaluable. Unfortunately I was broke and couldn’t pay anyone.
Writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely, affair and although I may insist on the maxim of writing being learnt and not taught I find it good to get out and mix with students. In recent years I have been doing a twenty day exercise at a London University with sixty students working in four groups. What I was tasked to do was get them (none having attempted storytelling before) to produce a full length drama, i.e two hours. In other words sixty students were telling the same story and devising a consistent and coherent plot. What they managed to achieve may not be eligible for a Bafta or an Emmy but was easily comparable to a lot of the more pedestrian drama on domestic TV and much more enthralling than some of the soaps which are considered fit entertainment worldwide. This was a group of non-professional writers producing a thriller/mystery story during a twenty day intensive. I didn’t teach them, I just guided them. They learnt. And got excited by the story they were offering. They discovered the power and joy of storytelling and I, in turn, was enriched by the whole process and their excitement.
Because storytelling is so solitary I thoroughly enjoy these forays into the world of teaching. However it is dependent on those who know me needing my services and the extent of their budget. Mindful of this and because I think it is so heartening to work with others I decided to create and offer an on-line writing course to nurture others along. Not full time as I still have my own stories to tell, but as a commitment to sharing with others as I wish someone had shared with me when I started out.
I have discovered through my life’s journey how powerful storytelling is as a tool in changing our lives, in healing our wounds and helping us grow. Some time ago when I ventured into the world of healing I started to dovetail my writing work to this arena. I saw the possibilities of healing through storytelling . Equally helping others tell stories, express themselves was also a healing process. By this time I had conceded the techniques of writing can be taught (in respect of syntax, grammar etc for those who are disadvantaged in this arena) and from that platform, creative writing and storytelling can be learnt. And the process is significantly more profound if you are travelling with someone on the way. Of course if you have the technical ability you are already well placed to begin your storytelling.
But what am I offering that can’t be learnt from a book? Well, basically, personal contact with me. If I was just writing a ‘how to’ book – in fact I have done, about 70,000 words come with the course – I wouldn’t want to do it. There are plenty of books out there and a good deal cheaper than a course. But then why doesn’t someone who wants their car serviced get a manual from the library? Because hopefully the expertise of a mechanic does the job quicker and helps the car be more efficient.
With any luck I have learnt enough by working with others in my life (particularly in the field of healing) to intuit what an individual needs which is why I offer a first phone call before the course even begins. That way the course becomes yet more personal to the student. Subject to time differences this course is offered worldwide through Skype provided the potential participant’s English is skilful enough and they are familiar enough with the language’s idioms and vernacular.
Why am I doing this? Well it’s not principally for the money. I can’t increase my income exponentially for I have to ‘be there’ so to speak. I’ve committed to working with no more than 25 students a week each getting a personal hour of time (through reading their work and speaking to them plus the modules) for I still need to write my own stuff, tell my own stories. But I’m doing it for fellowship, to champion the power of storytelling, to help people understand the hidden concepts and techniques and hopefully to harvest new friends on the way.
“If expressing what we feel is a fundamental need of our human psyches then it follows that communicating this well is axiomatic.”