for writers and readers….

What’s the worst thing a student could do in a creative writing class?

 I came across Cathy Dreyer humorous example of epistolary fiction in the summer when I discovered her blog Write a Novel In 10 Minutes Flat (a title that has its tongue firmly stuck in its cheek).
The letter from Jimbo Sneathe to his creative writing tutor in the Department of Literary Fulfillment was runner-up in the first ever creative writing competition held by the Department of Continuing Education at Oxford University. The theme was Creative Writing Classes and Cathy decided to explore the biggest sin a student could commit. Read it yourself here.

I enjoyed it so much I decided to use it as inspiration for a warm up exercise at the start of a new term so I asked my own students to come up with ideas for the worse thing to do in a creative writing class. Here’s what four of them came up with: (plagiarism and embarrassing bodily functions were also popular topics).

CHARLIE BOWKER’ s imagination stretched beyond the morning class in a community centre.

Nothing happened. Nothing. The great Creator in the sky had finally got tired of all the footling about on the new gadgetry. This included, but by no means exclusively, all the endless virtual realities, so many pushy flashy ads popping up on the internet that it gave him a headache, twitterology around the world so incessantly that he couldn’t sleep and the real birds couldn’t hear themselves sing, and all the other general modern abuse that spoils and mars the innate, pure forms of human creativity that he had taken so many centuries to nurture and for which we were intended. So he turned the key on the big machine in the sky that connects to all the children and people’s creativity, off .

As He said to himself, grumbling on….

‘Their creativity is getting so messed about by truncated e mail language, comedians sinking to endless use of the f word as a poor excuse for genuinely funny humour, and disc jockeys abusing vulnerable under age girls as part of their skill set; instead of the high intentions of pure prose, poetry and artistic expression that has so enhanced the  spirit  and done so much good for humanity over the years, that we need to start again.’

So Bridget came to the class and could say nothing. Amidst the hundreds of idea balls juggling in her brain, she particularly wanted to explore the new Edna O’Brien memoir, charting her progress as a woman and author against the judgemental diminishment meted out against both categories in the sixties. But, as she put her books down on the desk in the class, it was as though a powerful filthy drain had sucked all her imagination out from her brain. Holding the table with both hands to steady herself, all she could say was

‘The bus was late….Write a Story….’.

She sat down with the horror that her brain, having reluctantly dispensed all of its two thoughts was now thinking precisely nothing. Julie came up the stairs to the classroom, full of the joys of life and looking forwards to lunch with a friend in Marks and Spencers in Churchill Square. But, when she sat down, she could think of nothing to write. Her brain and joy had been sucked dry as she entered the room.

Sallie had similarly been pondering carefully on the experience of the Polish people displaced by Nazi Germany and then forced to live out an anguished,  alienated existence in England, reliving the traumas of the past in a country with no context of this or roots  for them. But when she came to open her notebooks, there was nothing there. All she could think of, the last drop of thinking left in her head, was

‘ It’s hot today’

Joao looked mournful, wiping his glasses, as he searched in vain for his intelligence which seemed to have flown off into the African veldt that he had been remembering. Meanwhile, Pat – who had arrived with her usual bundle of funny stories and sharp observations of the ironies of human behaviour – started with her usual good humoured smile, to get the classes’ shoulders heaving with laughter. She opened her mouth…..

Nothing…..Absolutely nothing

Her mouth stayed open with the horror of nothing replacing the full bodied humour that she had has so intended 10 seconds ago

Everything had dried up. The creative writers looked at each other in horror; their emptiness was reflected in each others emptiness and therefore provided no stimulus or interest. Bridget felt somewhere deep inside her the responsibility stirring of the class leader to get things going

But then it stopped stirring; and she began to wonder, like the others why she was there and what she was doing. Even the coffee bubbling away in its pot for the half time refreshment  drink was more interesting and stimulating than they were…..

They went home early…. Silently. Lost. Nothing to say. Bridget shut and locked the door, as she went downstairs to cancel the afternoon class. She realized that nothing would happen there either. Or tomorrow or next week, month or year….

I wonder if SALLY WOODS was thinking of Christmas excess when she wrote…

I think the worst thing would be attending a creative writing class after  a few too many drinks, laughing and making various noises whilst other students were reading out, then sluurring my speech when it was my turn before going to sleep, snoring and falling horizontally on the person next to me. zzzzzzz

PATRICIA OSBORNE examined darker problems that could arise in the classroom.

The course had been running for about six weeks – and Elaine the tutor was very precise and specific about our writing tasks and the boundaries we were to follow.  There were eight of us, two men and six women.  The two men were very different.  Christian was quite shy but had a sensitive turn of phrase and Terrence was a man of indeterminate age but quite vocal – none of us were sure about him, but we held off from making judgements.  As it was we all soon became aware that something was not quite right.  Elaine had given us a dialogue exercise to do for homework.  A man and a woman were discussing an issue but one in which there was a certain tension between the two characters.

We took turns to read our pieces and then it was Terrence’s turn.    The scenario began mildly enough, a suburban living room and a man and a woman who were arguing.  However, the tension rapidly increased and the action escalated until the closing scene was one of rape.

A writer should be able to write about anything?  But his work was so graphic and immediate that later, the group said, they felt they had all witnessed the terrible attack and someone, I think it was Jennifer, said she felt as though she was the one who had been raped. When he finished writing no-one spoke.  I could hear the clock on the wall ticking away the seconds and a car in the distance revving its engine – then Elaine spoke.

and JOAO SOUSA wrote about the worst preconceived ideas  you can  bring to a creative writing class

Old age my as… I came looking forward to what  I thought  it  would  be a “rheumatoid brigade” of old dears where I could glow with the leftovers of my recent youth.
First rule: you keep silent for a while, test the waters – and the air – around you .Measure them up, filter their behaviours. Then find your niche. Spot a position not taken where you can fit…and make history.
How naïve, and wrong, one can be! There are no “old cronies “ here, no mental arthritic rheumatism on these minds! I felt myself overtaken by  sweet ladies and chaps that could relocate me to my corner, facing the wall, in atonement for my misguided expectancies.

Trying to follow them is like riding a bike up  hill following James Bond’s Aston Martin. Silence can be taken on as a mark of wisdom and fool them for a little, but only a little, while.






3 comments on “What’s the worst thing a student could do in a creative writing class?

  1. ann perrin
    October 16, 2012

    has to be love not like…loved the first one best, once read a senario on typical students in a creative writing class. The apologetic one with “I’m sorry” about everything she wrote, the the academic one, the dead boring one, the one full of rubbish jokes, the know it all, who interrupted the tutor all the time..etc may have been the one that might have been better off in the crochet class!
    These days I hardly dare enter the room I could be all of them!

    • Pat Osborne
      October 16, 2012

      Agree with Ann feel the same way oh the joy of self analysis. However I really liked Charlie’s piece very funny and witty.

  2. Cathy Dreyer
    October 16, 2012

    What wonderful ideas! I very much enjoyed reading all these stories and snapshots. If I’m honest, I think the worst thing a student of creative writing can do is not turn up to class. Everyone has something to offer, as has been demonstrated here. I’m obviously immensely flattered. Thank you Bridget. Cathy x

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2012 by in Muse and tagged , .


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