April 30, 2009

Teaching writing workshops at Blue Metropolis

Last week I had the pleasure and honour of teaching a couple of sessions of creative writing to 15- to 17-year-old high school students through the Student Literary Programme at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. If I hadn't been too stressed out and busy in the lead-up to the festival, I would have written about it here already, but I was just preoccupied enough to have to keep my pre-workshop jitters and neuroses to myself. You're welcome.

In preparation, I revisited old class notes from workshops I've attended, I lurked on the blogs of other writers who have recently been facing this challenge, I pulled out a few creative writing books I'd purchased but never read, and I polled writer-friends on what they wished they'd been taught about writing in high school but didn't end up learning until later. I ended up with a jumble of thoughts on inspiration (don't wait for it!), first sentences, "show, don't tell," ideas for timed writing exercises, and editing tips. Then I spent some time making up handouts --- as much to give myself a roadmap as to give the students something to take home and look at later.

In the first session, I tried to do too much. There's only so much about writing that can be conveyed in two hours. The second day, I mostly skipped over the material I'd prepared on point-of-view and narrative voice and boiled down my editing tips to cutting down on adverbs and reporting tags.

In some cases, I was truly astonished by what was produced in our 10-minute timed exercises. The students were writing at different levels, but the more experienced writers were very impressive indeed. I was also thrilled by how many of the students were willing to speak up and share what they'd written. And I was grateful to the teachers, all of whom participated by doing the exercises and who seemed to share a terrific rapport with their students.

All in all, it was a great learning experience for me, especially in terms of reconnecting with teenagers (I spend a fair amount of time writing about them, in my novel-in-progress). I hope the students got something out of it, too!

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