“Are we all Creative Writers?” or The first time I ever tried my hands on teaching

There is an age-old saying that goes “those who can’t, teach”. However, whenever my mum (brilliant nurse-gone-teacher) encounters this saying she’ll just say “you’ve got to know something really well to be able to teach it”. I like that better.

The University of Winchester hosts these Taster Session Days, as part of an initiative called Widening Participation. The goal is to make attending university feel more accessible for currently under-represented student groups and to break down barriers future students might have about going into Higher education. On these days, the uni is open for Year 8 pupils from schools in the wider area, and they all get a taste of life at the uni, with campus tours and taster sessions where they get to try out different courses.

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two of three days of Creative Writing sessions, and this has been both such a challenge and so much fun. Years ago I lead two children’s theatre courses and I’ve done five years of volunteering with leading youth groups, but I’ve never actually taught something like Creative Writing, and it feels new and exciting to be in a position where you can call yourself a “tutor”.

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-Calm before the storm; waiting for the students to appear. Beth (in the picture) also held a really great session about modernist poetry!

I had so much fun, though! My session was called “Are You Already a Creative Writer?” and I wanted to challenge the Year 8s (12/13-year olds) to think about all the different kinds of writing they’re doing in their everyday lives. A lot of the students participating thought about Creative Writing as something fancy and difficult to do, but I wanted them to think of themselves as writers because, in a way, we all already are. We also talked a lot about how you might benefit from a university degree, and they challenged me back, with asking about why they should get a Creative Writing degree, if they were already creative writers?*

What made the session interesting from the start, was that the students in the groups all had very different experiences with writing. Some of them had already written lots of stories (one girl even showed me a digital copy of her 60k first draft of a novel!), and some of them didn’t think they could write at all. Some of them didn’t like it and some didn’t even want to try. To get them started, though, I had them all choose a picture of a person. I found the pictures on the Humans of New York website, and made sure to tell the kids where they were from, and that they were already telling a story. “Now, however,” I said, “we’re going to give them new stories.”

 

 

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-To have the students move around a bit, I put all the pictures on the sofas in the back of the classroom, so they had up get up from their seats and pick them up.

 

The first writing exercise I gave them, was to write about the person in the picture like they were introducing them as the main character of a novel. I gave them some questions to prompt their imaginations a bit, and then walked around and chatted with them about their ideas as they were writing. So many good stories came out of this! From intergalactic romances between alien princesses and human London-buskers to Einstein’s time-travelling, evil twin brother. Some of the students worked together and linked their characters, some worked on their own, some didn’t really want to work at all. The great thing, however, was that even the students who didn’t want to take the class seriously ended up doing exactly what I wanted them to do. Being 13 is a weird age, and when someone who doesn’t technically look like an adult (read: me) tells them to do something, it’s quite natural that some of them didn’t want to. Still, this meant that they were trying to create the craziest, furthest-out-there stories, to show me that they didn’t care, but this was how some of the most fun stories came to be, and they were definitely being creative with their pictures and characters.

After they wrote their character introductions, we agreed that novels, short stories and poetry are the things most people think about when they hear creative writing. However, we also talked about all the other types of writing there are, and how we don’t even think about many of them as creative at all. To make the students try this out, I asked them to write about their character in a different way. A blog post written from their point of view, an article about something they’d done, a diary entry, or, if they were particularly brave (which a lot of them were), some song lyrics.

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-A slide from the PowerPoint talking about different types of creative writing

Then, after two writing exercises, a couple of discussions, lots of talking and an actual workshop, we linked all the things we’d done to what the Creative Writing Course is about. Creative problem solving; I gave them a problem, the picture, and they presented me with a solution, the story. They wrote to prompts and followed guidelines like “professional writers” have to do, and we spent about an hour being creative together.

These days doing teaching has been fun, challenging and very educational, hopefully also for the students, but more than anything, for me. Planning lessons and talking about how to engage a room full of students is something very different from actually doing it, but I’m so glad I challenged myself to do this, to try. To quote Lucie Fink, “let’s make trying the new doing.” And the same can absolutely be said for a lot of the Year 8s that day, they tried something they’d never done before, and their attempts became fantastic stories and interesting characters. A couple of very successful writing sessions, this is definitely something I would love to do again.

-Andrea
*The answer to “why do a degree in Creative Writing”, btw, is that anyone can sit on their own and write, but a CW degree betters your time management skills, your creative thinking and problem solving, gives you the focus and the discipline of a degree but in a creative atmosphere, and also teaches you the professional sides of the business, like writing to word counts and briefs. It’s also a very good time. Challenging, but great.
If you want any more reasons to do a creative writing degree, I’ve actually written a blog post about that too, on the UoW’s student blog! Check it out here if you think a CW degree might be something for you, or if you’re just curious!

 

Journal #5

During my time at uni, I’ve made a lot of blogs for different modules. The point is always to market yourself, to showcase your writing, to find a way to build an online portfolio. Most of them don’t exist anymore, but one I’m feeling a bit nostalgic about (and also the one I liked the most), is called InstantColouring, and it was for a first year “publishing” module. It has long since been abandoned now, but on it I posted a polaroid picture and about 100 words every day of March 2016.

I know I just said it was the blog I liked the most, but it also makes me cringe. I feel like that’s the case with most old writing; you progress, you learn new things, and suddenly what you used to be happy with feels a bit awkwardly worded, a bit unnecessarily flowery. However, this blog did capture snapshots of my everyday, during a month of my first year of uni, and now that that’s coming to an end, I’ve decided to put some of the posts here, in the Journal Series. I won’t edit them or try to make them better, they’ll just be a small reminder (mostly to myself) of how things have or haven’t changed. Sounds like a plan?

 

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02/29/2016

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“When asked about my favourite season, I wouldn’t say summer, even though I adore the lazy nights of July when the sun never sets and shoes are no longer a necessity. I wouldn’t say autumn either, even though I love the feeling of burying my face in the biggest scarf from this season’s new collection and how the colours change from green to auburn. I also wouldn’t say winter, even though it makes me indescribably happy when snow starts to fall from the clouds like dizzy ballerinas and the Christmas lights are being lit all over the world. No, I will always say spring, because of the soft light that’s reserved for April only, that gently knocks on your window and reminds you that it’s never too late for new beginnings.”

-Andrea

“Mina”

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Yesterday, alumni and current students of the UoW’s Creative Writing programme gathered to celebrate the programme’s 10 year anniversary as an independent single-honours degree. It was a wonderful night, with speeches, music, quizzes about the lecturers, a “memory fireplace” (a fancy fireplace we stuck memories written down on post-it notes on) and lots and lots of readings. Stick about 50 writers together in a room, and you won’t believe how many great, weird, thought-provoking and heartbreaking pieces you can find. There was everything from poetry to short stories to song lyrics, and the red thread that wove itself through the night was just to celebrate this course and how much it gives its students, how much it shapes us as people. A feel-good night with wine and beautiful dresses, chill formal, with lots of applause and a warm atmosphere.

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At the same time, we also ” celebrated” the launch of the 2018 edition of Vortex. Vortex is the uni’s literary magazine, open to submissions from everyone (not just students). This year’s edition is a bit special, however, as it is the first issue that has been created by students, with third-year Creative and Professional Writing students forming the editorial board, marketing- and design team. I’ve wanted to submit work to Vortex since receiving a copy in the “welcome to uni”-pack in first-year, but it wasn’t until the end of second-year I managed to gather up the courage to actually send anything in. Now I’m so glad I did. The 2018 edition is an absolutely beautiful magazine, illustrated by Kat Beatson, and filled to the brim with great poems and short stories. It doesn’t have a specific theme, but to quote someone from the launch yesterday, it’s got a quiet vulnerability to it, at the same time as it’s fierce and weird. If you’re in Winchester, it’s definitely something to check out.

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I was also fortunate enough to be able to read the piece I submitted to the magazine at the launch, and if you want to read it, you can find it here!
It’s a piece I wrote in second-year, based on research done on children’s fiction as a platform to talk to children about difficult subjects. It’s also what started my dissertation, and it was weird to revisit and read it, now that it’s almost a year old.
I do like it and am quite proud of it, though.

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 16.19.04The proper pictures in this post are by Ben Coleman, you can find his work here.

And if you want to listen to it while reading, here’s a video!

(And sorry for all the links here, but if you wanna check out some of the short stories I’ve been lucky enough to get published or any poetry performances I’ve been a part of, then just click here or go to the “Pieces and Performances” page in the header bar!)

-Andrea

(A very Little Piece of) Winchester

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The Winchester Book Shop; Three floors of second-hand books to get lost in.
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You can’t not follow that sign, can you.

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“Halls” to get lost in, behind the Winchester Cathedral.

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The sun set on the Winchester Cathedral, an evening in early spring, is something everyone should experience at some point.
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St Giles Hill; where you go to escape the city.

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Where walkways, trees and winding ivy go hand in hand.
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The Itchen Way, that can take you all the way to Southampton (if you’ve got good shoes and a packed lunch).

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The Hospital of St Cross; a quiet place tucked in by the Winchester Water Meadows

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The last functioning Alms House in England, St Cross still stands.
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With old hallways, halls, kitchens and wonderful gardens, and a great view of St Catherine’s Hill.
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Cream tea at Cafe Winchester. The best one there is.

 

-Andrea

Journal #4

Cafe 004I’ve always been one to enjoy my own company. Don’t get me wrong, I do love being around people, and quiet days without anyone to talk to can make me go stir crazy, but still, at the end of the day, I always need a bit of me-time. Some peace and space to just be. However, lately I’ve started thinking about how this me-time always means staying in. Me-time is quiet-time, it’s pyjamas and knitting and another chapter of my favourite book. Days like that are of course perfectly fine and sometimes also very necessary, but it made me think about how I use the terms me-time and quiet-time interchangeably, when they’re actually quite different concepts (to me, anyway, I’m not trying to speak for introverts everywhere!)

Quiet time is needed when your head is full. When your mind is spinning with other people’s ideas and you just need some time with your own thoughts. Quiet time is for when you don’t want any kind of input, when you just want to hide away. Nights like these are the pyjamas-and-facemask nights, the nights you need to take a bit more care of yourself, to charge the batteries and just be you.

Me-time, however, is when you’re just not that into talking to people, but also don’t feel the need to hide away. It’s when you don’t mind having others around, you just don’t particularly want to talk to anyone. I realise that this sounds quite negative, but it’s really not meant to be. I have found, that when me-time is needed, I don’t really want to keep conversations and react to people, I just want to observe? I want to be around people, but not have them acknowledge me; at least no more than a polite nod, a smile, a hello.

Third year of uni has found me needing a bit more me-time, as the dissertation, assignments and commitments have piled up. I’ve found myself feeling restless during quiet-time, which I never did before, and have been able to identify it as a “I don’t want to be alone right now, but I also don’t want to talk to anyone.”

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This is a very rambly post, as I’m still trying to make sense of this in my own brain. However, as a challenge to myself, and to test out the theory about the difference between quiet-time and me-time, I’m going to start taking myself out for coffee sometimes. Right now I’m sat at Cafè Winchester with a cream tea (peppermint) and my laptop. I can’t remember a time I ever sat down at a cafè on my own, without waiting for anyone, without just quickly grabbing something to go. I like it, though! Not as a profound “I am brave enough to be alone with my thoughts”-sort of way (I really don’t like that whole idea and attitude), it’s just nice to hear people chatter and talk around me and know that I don’t have to partake in their conversations.

Does any of this make sense? Or does it just make me sound like an awful person who’d rather listen to other people talk than keep conversations going, themselves?
I don’t know. But this tea is really good, and I’m quite content right now.

 

TL;DR: Sometimes you just want to drink tea and eat scones and listen to other people do the talking, and that’s okay, too.

-Andrea

Journal #3

“I can’t work in my room,” I say when people ask me why I’m always in the library, “too many distractions in there.” All throughout my degree, separating uni work and down time has been very important to me. I think one of the reasons for this is because I’ve been living on campus for the last three years, but maybe today was a bit different. I’m sat here now, by the desk in my little room, with my bookshelf full of adventures I’ve yet to go on and a phone that’s charging right next to me, and I’ve finished my dissertation without checking either. Or, I mean, I’ve finished the creative part of my dissertation at least. 8000 words, now finally edited, done and dusted. I’m sure I’ll go through and proofread a bit more, but from now on I’ll just be looking for spelling mistakes and stray commas, not any actual edits. It’s a weird feeling. And I did it all from the comfort of my room, here where I say I can never work. Guess I was wrong. I’ve got a proper mug of tea (not just a travel mug), a bowl of (almost completely) homemade pasta carbonara and I’m listening to soft music on speakers, not through headphones. I still think the library’s the place for me to sit down and properly get everything I need done actually done, but maybe I can be a bit more open to the idea of working in my own space too. This has been a surprisingly productive, but relaxed, day.
I can get used to this.

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Have a very staged picture of how I’d love my writing nook to look like all the time. The norm is more pens everywhere and paper flying! (Also, I finished my tea just before taking this..)

-Andrea

Journal #2

Breathe. Sometimes you just need a bit of fresh air. When deadlines clog your brain and word counts don’t act like you want them to it’s like your breath gets stuck in your chest, your shoulders, and you need a change of scenery. For me, fresh air means the smell of salty seas and the sound of seagulls and waves. Whenever things get just a bit too much, I get on the train and I go where I know there’ll be an open sea to greet me, and a beach with sand that can run through my fingers. And just like that, I breathe again.

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-Andrea

Journal #1

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One day, I’ll have a flat of my own, or maybe even a house. I’m not entirely sure where yet, (haven’t decided on all the small details like what city or country to settle down in) but what I do know, is that my home will have white walls, soft sheets and big windows. Huge, open windows that let in the world, that you can see the sunrise through, that show you days melting into nights.
I want big windows so I can wake up to natural light peeking through the curtains, and because they make me feel connected to what’s outside. I want windows that can help me keep track of the seasons, with views over streets, over trees and over roof tops.

I was lucky enough to get to stay in this wonderful flat in Streatham the other week, and there was something so special about working on a windowsill, enveloped in a double duvet that was both way too big and the perfect size at the same time. Through the dewdrops on the panes, I saw people hurrying past with their groceries, couples huddling together to stay warm and students running after busses with their scarves hanging straight out behind them. As I got my laptop out to write, and the wind rustled the trees outside, I remember telling myself that I don’t think I’ll ever need much more than this, really.

-Andrea

(Also! One of my poems just got “published” on vocal! I’m not entirely sure why it ended up in the sub category “sad poetry”, but if you want to check it out, just click here.  If you want to see some of the other things I’ve been getting up to, mainly poetry there too, click here for my “Pieces and Performances” page! Thank you xx )