Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Product placement

Just the second post of the month: am I falling behind?

On the Book Trust website there’s a list of short story competitions, each with their special rules (maximum word lengths, deadlines for entries, etc). My favourite is this: ‘must include Italian women in some way’. Elsewhere, there’s a form I could fill in for a week’s residency in a luxury hotel in Sardinia, the condition being that I’d have to write a story set in Cagliari. One story could do for both, I’m thinking, but then remember that a few posts back I said I’d never written anything to commisssion and probably couldn’t, and this would be a bit like that.

Another thing I said I hadn’t done is teach creative writing. Given that almost everyone else – of my generation of writers, the poets especially – has done this, I’m beginning to feel like the one virgin in the whole school year. I talked about this with a friend: we agreed that we didn’t have enough confidence in our own practice to teach, and that we’d go into it thinking that most of the students were probably better than us, so we’d feel there under false pretences.

This is all a bit priggish, words wrapped around my scepticism about the whole concept of ‘creative writing’. (This morning, I heard a writer tell other writers that she taught creative writing ‘with an ambivalent attitude’. A kind of disclaimer: don’t expect exactly what it says on the tin.) Loosening up, I’m happy to believe those who tell me that there are some excellent teachers out there; and it’s really more about enabling than ‘teaching’, and magic can happen; and what students learn from teachers is at least as much about attitudes and passion as it is about particular skills.

So maybe I should stop muttering on the edge and plunge in. Starting with a short story that will ‘include Italian women in some way’. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading Among Women Only by Cesare Pavese, which is about nothing but Italian women, and it’s wonderful.


Nicholas Murray said...

I think that enabling is all one can truly do. I teach creative non-fiction only (travel writing, biography writing) and I think that enabling and enthusing and nurturing are what one does best. Students (mine are adults) talk a lot about "feedback" which I think can mean a range of things from "tell me I am wonderful" through "tell me how I can become a brilliant writer overnight by the application of snake oil" to (the majority) "tell me if this has worked, if it isn't too bad", the latter being the sort of feedback I want myself. It's interesting how LITTLE feedback professional writers get. Agents, for example, will say that they "don't like" something without being able really to say why. And perhaps they are right. Something feels right or it doesn't.

Stephen Knight said...

If musical composition, sculpture, painting, knitting, etc can be taught, why not writing?