Saturday, 5 June 2010

Why I Teach Creative Writing

At a tutorial in Oxford on Tuesday a student said as he was leaving, I can't understand why someone like you, a successful novelist, teaches. I mumbled something about enjoying it, but he didn't look convinced. So, Mick, this is for you. It's what I should have said.

Life isn't about money - heck, if that was what interested me, being a novelist would be a daft choice. We all need money to live on, but after a certain point, it's about consumerism. I don't care about going on flashy holidays or having a smart car. I have no interest in designer labels or eating in the best restaurants or living in a big house.

What I'm interested in is writing and reading, and talking about writing and reading, and being with people who like writing and reading. I like the mechanics of writing - why does X work, and why doesn't Y? I like doing things like crosswords and sudoku and story analysis feels pretty much the same to me. I like playing around with structure and character, I like seeing the patterns fall into place. Teaching is an outlet for that. I come up with exercises for students that examine the mechanics of writing, they do them, and then we discuss the success or otherwise. It's endlessly fascinating.

I also get a lot out of the students. There's nothing better than seeing someone improve - I was reading some student work yesterday that had been revised and was so excited, she'd absolutely nailed the story. It's so satisfying when that happens. And the students I teach are usually alert and interested and want to improve and nearly as obsessed by writing as I am. (This is why I don't teach British undergrads any more because they usually aren't.) Classes are energising and uplifting. And occasionally there's the adrenalin rush of feeling you're out lion taming, although that happens less and less as I get more experienced.

And then there are practical considerations. I'm published today, I may not be tomorrow. Publishing changes, writers go out of fashion, get blocked. Teaching provides some stability in an uncertain world. It also gets me out of the house and away from the computer and into the real world meeting a range of real people. Writers can become isolated: the job involves hours of sitting on your own in an imaginary world. It suits people who are introverted and not especially sociable. It suits me. I'm never happier than when I take a week out and go to an isolated cottage to write. Teaching forces me to be out there in the real world.

Some people like football. Some like choral singing. I like teaching. That's all.

Next event - CHESTERFIELD! 10th June, at the library at 7.30 as part of the Derbyshire Lit Fest. (Details on p 49 of the brochure). And then it's Birmingham on the 23rd.

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