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A personal narrative on attending a writing class

Illustration by Jill Calder Philip Hensher Good writing is a mixture of the calculated and the instinctual. Last week, speaking at the Bath festival, Hanif Kureishi cast some doubt on the existence of transferable, teachable craft in writing by witheringly classifying 99. Can you teach that? I don't think you can. What lies, or ought to lie, a personal narrative on attending a writing class the growth of creative writing as a subject is the conviction that a good deal of the best writing derives from conscious craft, if not all of it.

Commentators sometimes say that writing can't be taught; that beginning writers either have "it", in which case they don't need to be taught, or they don't have "it", in which case money and time is being wasted by the exercise. But writers can perfectly well have native ability, a feel for language, an inventiveness and a keen eye towards the world and still not quite understand how they can do something well, not once, but repeatedly.

A good creative writing course will explore underlying principles of good writing — not to impose invented "rules" on writing, but to introduce ways of thinking about writing that are strong and purposeful. You could teach yourself how to make a chair by taking a lot apart, and experimenting with joists.

A furniture-making course might school you in some unsuspected skills, and save you some time. A bad creative writing class will look like this. A student has submitted some work with the words: After a long silence, one of the student's best friends, primed, says: I've seen the experience of becoming a writer from both sides. When I began, it didn't occur to me to go on a creative writing course — there were few in the late 1980s, and it seemed more pressing to do an academic PhD.

I taught myself to write. I still think, for a writer who is also an insatiable reader, there is a lot to be said for the self-taught route.

Personal Narrative Essentials: Summary and Musing

But since 2005, I've started teaching creative writing in universities, and now teach at Bath Spa. A personal narrative on attending a writing class by Adam Gale Creative writing, as a discipline, may not be entirely selfless, despite any beneficial results. Forced into the academy, a writer might run a good seminar something like this. We might discuss an aspect of technique with reference to a passage from a published piece of fiction — last week we talked about character from the outside, looking at a page of Elizabeth Bowen.

Other ways of thinking about humanity might prove relevant. There are writers' statements or thoughts about what they do as writers — Arnold Bennett's glorious book on the subject, or Virginia Woolf 's counter-statement about the exterior and interior world of the mind, or any number of interviews with present-day authors.

Or we could have a look at sociologists' analysis, like that of Erving Goffmanor psychologists', or anything else that seems interesting and relevant. When student work is discussed, it has to be a safe but rigorous process.

Constructive comments are insisted on; not ego-massaging niceness, but specific comments on where something has gone wrong and how it might be improved. Is the presiding consciousness the right one? Does he need to filter everything through his awareness? Is this the right tense? What is this thing called free indirect style? You bet your sweet bippy they don't.

So you want to be a writer …

Classes, at Bath Spa and elsewhere, differ greatly. With a faculty that includes very varied authors, there is never going to be a uniform approach. But we often find ourselves addressing recurrent issues. How can I create characters that are memorable and engaging? Top tip; incident has to keep coming from outside, and the unexpected illuminates character. Try experimentally dropping a giant block of frozen piss through the ceiling of their room and see what they do.

Illustration by Adam Gale There are also possibilities that writers just haven't perceived. You don't have to present action as a one-off series of events; actions can be beautifully recurrent in a sentence running: She would always thank him effusively. And how rude and rare is shrugging, anyway?

Your students are not, thank heaven, going to be much like you as writers. They are going to react against you with their own thoughts and creative principles. But a good creative writing course will produce independent-thinking, craftsmanlike innovators with critical, widely curious and energetic minds.

I don't know why this goal isn't more common in universities, anyway. Philip Hensher is a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University. Jeanette Winterson Jeanette Winterson. By which I mean if it isn't on the page it doesn't exist. The connection between your mind and the reader's mind is language.

Reading is not telepathy.

Introduction

Like or dislike is a personal thing and tells me something about you, but nothing about the text. If you don't think something is well written, convince me. If you do think so, convince me.

  • We insist on the following three points;
  • Is this the right tense?
  • Today's MFA students expect you to be awake;
  • Rather, it is meant to provide a basic overview, anchored to reflective writing as one particular expression and use of narratives.

Learn from everything you read and understand how to learn from everything you read. And above all read! My classes use texts I am pretty sure they won't know because I want them to see how wide is the world of books and thought and imagination. You can write about anything you like but there must be a connection between you and the material. Ezra Pound was right.

A faculty development workshop in narrative-based reflective writing

Jeanette Winterson is a professor of creative writing at Manchester University. Rachel Cusk Rachel Cusk. Most of what I teach involves encouraging students to exteriorise their subjective world by fixing it to objects, instead of routing everything through the persona of Jane or John.

For the reader, being trapped in the head of Jane or John, and dependent on them for every scrap of information, is the precise opposite of their own experience of existence. A story that starts with "Jane looked out of the kitchen window and thought about her life" — despite the fact that it may be perfectly true — will always be struggling to free itself from a basic unreality.

Many students find this idea counterintuitive, but the easier and more effortless something looks, the more thoroughly it is underpinned by technique. The desire to write comes easily; writing itself is technical and hard.

I give my students exercises in which a certain object has to feature. I choose the object myself: The object represents the impingement of reality, and it nearly always has the effect of turning their writing inside out. Over time I've learned which objects work the best: Others — a lawnmower, a new pair of shoes — unfailingly make the writing more objective. Rachel Cusk is professor of creative writing at Kingston University.

Michael Cunningham Michael Cunningham. Sarah Lee for the Guardian I teach a class on the craft of fiction-writing at Yale, which is a hybrid of a literature course and a writing workshop.

If a more traditional literature course has to do with why we're interested in writers like Henry James and James Joyce, my class focuses on how they did what they did, using only ink, paper, and the same vocabulary available to everyone. If a more traditional workshop is largely based on trial and error — write a story and we'll tell you what's wrong with it — my course is based at least partly on why writers write as they do; on the basis for their decisions.

I do remind my students, periodically, that fiction contains an element of ineluctable mystery along with its elements of craft, and that a great story or novel is great in certain ways we can elucidate, and certain ways in which we cannot. We don't dissect great literature in the belief that once all its organs are spread out on the table before us, we've got it figured out. We read extensively and, each week, do our best to determine how certain effects were achieved by a different writer.

How did James build his characters in The Aspern Papers? How did Joyce structure "The Dead"? The students perform writing exercises as we go along. During the week we spend on character, for instance, I ask them to write a single paragraph that conveys the appearance and essential nature of a character.

During the week on structure, I give them an impossible welter of information — seven different people, with twice that many interconnected dramas and conflicts — and ask them to sketch out a story, with the understanding that they can omit as much, or include as much, as they like.

During the final third of the semester I simply tell my students to take what they've learned, and write a story. Any story they like. Which can be anywhere from one to 25 pages long though I encourage them to lean more toward single-digit page counts — I stress economy and precision throughout the semester. The stories they come up with are often surprisingly good.

Michael Cunningham is a senior lecturer in creative a personal narrative on attending a writing class at Yale University. She seems to achieve the compression and electric intensity of her final version through minimising the connective engineering of the syntax in her sentences, taking out explanations, excising the mediating voice from around the things seen.

The students went home to work on a paragraph of their own, cutting and intensifying in that way, taking out what's flabby and banal. In the short-story class, we spent lots of time thinking about endings. Why do the endings of short stories carry so much more weight, in proportion to the whole, than the endings of novels? We wrangle over the endings of particular stories we've been reading together — Dubliners, Eudora Welty, Agnes Owens and others.

What satisfies, what doesn't? How can the writer tell when it's enough?

Personal Narrative: a Workshop in Essay and Memoir

Why has taste turned against endings that clinch too tightly, or have too much twist in the tail? The students are working on their own stories: Rehearsing these things collectively loosens the tight fit of fear and inhibition, imagination relaxes.

The writing course offers an audience.