Why is it important to teach creative writing?
I’m not totally convinced you can teach it. You can teach processes, skills, knowledge of other writers, do’s and don’t and rules, but ultimately the truly creative element, the talent and flair if you will, comes from the writer him or herself. You can’t teach that, only cultivate it.
Having said that, it is important to teach the practical side of things to ensure a broad access to writing, reduce elitism, boost confidence, and enable people to better express themselves.
It is a way of cultivating raw talent and ensures that culture and creativity thrive regardless of economic and social pressures and negativity.
It is a way of enabling people to be true to themselves and their talents, however great or small. It maintains an interest in and a love of the art of writing.
As schools seem to focus less and less on creative subjects, it restores the balance and keeps the flame alive. Humankind needs to be creative. It would be an unhappy life if we forgot how to be.
How did you get into teaching creative writing?
People who knew I wrote (and had a degree in English Language and Literature) started asking me questions and I started responding. Eventually it seemed sensible to share these discussions in groups. My background is in education so the groups naturally became tutorials and workshops. As an impecunious writer I needed to cover costs. People started paying for sessions and asking for more. I was asked to run groups for art festivals, summer schools and the like. Things just grew.
Currently I co-run a regular monthly writers’ group in Hertfordshire and lead tutorials and workshops elsewhere when invited to do so.
What creative writing exercise or prompt do you use that produces interesting results from writers?
I should like to think they all do. Some of the most entertaining responses have been when I have asked people to write a well-known story, or involve well-known characters, in a totally different genre from the original.
For example, Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men as the leads in a piece of Romantic Fiction or Goldilocks and the Three Bears as a noir detective story.
The selection of characters and genres is randomised, so you end up with some interesting combinations. It also makes people consider their expectations of specific genres, try their hand at writing something they would not normally tackle and review their approach to favourites they may have become blasé about.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to new writers who are at the beginning stages of exploring their craft?
Take your time, write lots and don’t rush it. You wouldn’t expect to become a virtuoso violin player overnight. While you are taking your time, make sure you read widely.
Any particular resource (website or book or anything) that you would recommend to writers?
There are so many out there it is difficult to choose and it also depends on where a writer is at their stage in the journey. I personally learned a lot from Peter Finch’s “How To Publish Your Poetry”, which I believe is still in print.
Otherwise, I recommend that people browse what is out there and select books and websites that work for them and that communicate in a way that resonates for them.
I also recommend they consider content by writers who have proved they can write. Anyone can write an advice blog or set up a website, but not everyone gives good advice. Browse the web, see what’s out there, decide what and who works for you and who has earned their credentials and deserves your trust.
J.S.Watts is a British poet and novelist. Born in London, she now lives just outside of Cambridge. Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the States, including Acumen, Mslexia and Popshot and have been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Magazine and Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales.
J.S.’s poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, are published by Lapwing Publications, as is her multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue. Her latest poetry pamphlet, The Submerged Sea, came out in early 2018 and is published by Dempsey & Windle. Her novels, A Darker Moon – dark literary fiction and Witchlight – a paranormal tale with a touch of romance, are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press.
For further details see her website: www.jswatts.co.uk
The monthly writers’ group J.S. co-runs with writer Emma Vandore in Hertfordshire is called Writer’s Club. It aims to bring together the writers of Bishop’s Stortford and surrounding areas to focus on the craft of writing. Writers of all abilities and at all stages of their writing journey are welcome. The group meet in Bishop’s Stortford, 2pm – 4pm, on the first Sunday of every month. Whilst the group does not have a website, it does have a Facebook page and anyone interested in the process of writing (even if they live too far away from Bishop’s Stortford to ever visit) is welcome to join and participate in online discussions. You can find it at Writer’s Club