Some thoughts on teaching creative writing

I get to start this post with some good news which I have been sitting on for a while now. As of later this year I will be taking over as Course Director for the Certificate in Creative Writing at the Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester. I was extremely excited to be offered this role, partly because the course is aimed at adult learners (who are my favourite people to teach writing to) and partly because I’ve found a real love of teaching creative writing over the last three or more years of teaching the subject in various settings.

(You can find more details of the course here. I will be developing the curriculum and also doing a fair amount of teaching on it, alongside guest tutors. The course is very practically focused – a big tick for anyone wanting to develop real craft skills as a writer – and also allows you to gain a fully acredited qualification from a university with an excellent academic reputation. Needless to say, I highly recommend enrolling if these things suit your interests.)

Some writers go their entire careers without ever teaching, for others it is an integral part of their own development. I fit solidly in to the second camp. I am in many ways as interested in the process of writing as in the product. Understanding the dynamics of human imagination and the techniques of fiction are continually fascinating to me. What I have found most fascinating is how teaching writing pays back in to my own work as a writer. You never examine your own practice as hard as you do when you are trying to teach others (even if you only teach them what not to do…) and being in close contact with other writers is as enriching in a teaching role as it is in a workshop.

One of the perennial questions with creative writing is whether it can be taught. Clearly I believe that it can, and I have benefited from good teaching over more than a decade seriously studying the subject. The ‘writers toolkit’ can certainly be taught, from basics of grammar and style, to issues like viewpoint and narrative distance. I think it is also possible to help students develop their ability to harness their own creativity and imagination (and this is probably the most ‘transferable’ skill they can develop because it is useful in so many other areas of life). The area that can’t perhaps be taught is a writer’s insight in to the world, other people and their own self, which is ultimately what we look to writers for. But I do think that writing is in itself a way of developing those insights, and that is perhaps the most valuable thing any of us gain from studying it.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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