I teach creative writing classes. I don’t teach grammar, spelling, or anything other than the creative in creative writing. That should make anyone who has ever edited or reviewed any of my writing relieved.
First class, I assure everyone that making a living as a writer is rare, unicorn-rare. Some of them reconsider and a few disappear by the next week, but they are the exception. The drive to put into words a story that they are living or imagining, trumps fantasies of glory or paycheck. Still, I swear I can see daydreams of Oprah interviews popping like soap bubbles. Once I’ve shattered their dreams, we’re all more relaxed.
My absolute favorite part of teaching? The students. A group of people gathered to discuss their imaginations. Setting aside time to use one’s imagination, that is an amazing thing. Once we’ve packed up our Crayola’s, we don’t do nearly enough sanctioned, active, exclusive imagining.
I love how creative writing classes are intimate places, a mixer that’s slipped a Rufi, flies to Vegas and boom, gets hitched. Classes learn about each other fast, like within the first two hours. All pretense disappears and the socio-economic differences and race differences and religious differences become background rather than foreground. As a group, they like words, they love stories and they want to learn another way of seeing the world. It’s all very United-Nation’esque.
That first evening, after I’ve crushed their dreams and lead a big share and tell (why and what you want to write), the first assignment involves un-learning some good manners. I assign eavesdropping, encouraging class participants to become morally-challenged and eavesdrop, while ignoring the people they are having lunch or coffee with. I tell them my loved ones no longer talk to me in restaurants, as I am all about the stolen sound bite. The second class we use scavenged conversations, bits and pieces they have collected, as our writing prompts.
As we close, I ask them what they are reading. There is usually one person who doesn’t like to read. In fact, there are usually two or three non-readers. To them, I say, really? Then I point out that they read all the time. They text, the read Facebook, they read subtitles. They assure me, they do not read. I resolve to bring in poems and essays to read as a group. They will read. I consider that part of my job as a teacher.
Also, I have them check out Smith College’s Six Word Memoir Project. Six words to tell a complete story! The project has pure gems. I read them when I should be working: Beating mom at Scrabble feels wrong and Olive branches come in text messages… Six words telling complete stories. Surely, that isn’t too much of a commitment for the non-reader or not-oft-reader. So far, I’ve gotten good responses and classes where everyone reads.