Teaching Creative Writing

Sharing our pleasure in writing with help to balance out the isolation of the working process and stimulate our own ideas. It makes good practical sense to consider teaching for its many benefits, as well as the chance to encourage other writers.

Experience and Qualifications

The level of work available will be determined by success and qualification. A lack of academic qualifications may be balanced by a well-received novel or collection of poetry, while a modest publication record and a degree will also open doors. Teaching experience in any area is useful as is a good professional attitude and a well presented CV.

Any writer starting out in teaching Creative Writing is best gathering experience through informal groups and community classes. While the standard of preparation and teaching should still be high, the more relaxed environment can be a confidence-builder.

With a teaching background and qualifications, college or university courses offer a higher rate of pay but also more admin and meetings.

Don’t Work for Free!

It is not a good idea to work for nothing to gain experience. Establishing a professional and confident profile is essential from the very start. Teaching involves as much responsibility on Day One as after forty years so looking, even if not feeling, up to the task is very important.

Is it Worth It?

When deciding if work is worthwhile, take travelling costs, books and other expenses into account. In institutions, part-time staff are usually given access to computers, printing and photocopying, but not provision of any course materials.

Also, remember that the hourly rate covers preparation, marking and administration. The course may require marking portfolios of work and writing reports. Each teaching hour has a number of other hours tucked up its sleeve.

Time Management

Managing time is the key to successful teaching. Meeting the students before planning lessons beyond the first week can help in making a scheme of work effective. A casual group who write as a hobby will require a very different approach from serious writers who want to see their names in print.

“That’s not How our Last Teacher did it…….”

Taking over an established group brings challenges. Whether the group loved or hated that person, someone new is a change of routine so ask for a copy of the previous teacher’s scheme of work. An idea of the style and format the students are used to and work they’ve already covered will help, though there’s no need to follow the same pattern. Just be aware of what they have done in the past.

Planning Lessons

When planning a scheme of work, balancing writing exercises with discussion gives students input as well as encouragement to write. Always plan more work than seems necessary. Try starting the class with a writing exercise, moving on to a related discussion and then returning to the exercise and developing it.

A ‘read-round’ and feedback session after each exercise helps to create the sense of a working group. Be firm about peer feedback – it needn’t all be praise, but criticism must be constructive.

Dates and Deadlines.

Give dates, preferably on a handout, when work is due in and remind students when a deadline is coming up. A cut-off date can avoid having students handing in all their assignments on the last week of the course. Marking creative work is a thorny subject and will depend upon the nature of the course. Ask whoever is running the course if there is a marking policy and work to it.

Keeping up the Standard

Be clear on how work should be presented. There may be genuine reasons why some students don’t use a word processor, but if they’re serious about writing, then they’re going to have to address that eventually. Suggest that they start now but be flexible. Offering to type up work for them is not good idea.

A Writer should Write

The final thing to remember is that, as part of a freelance writing career, teaching should support personal writing, not wipe it out. A timetable scheduling writing, teaching and preparation time is helpful.

Teaching can be very enjoyable, but it’s not easy money and it’s only good money with careful time-management. Making contact with like minds across a range of age groups and encouraging other writers is always a positive activity.

But take care not to end up telling a student that you used to be a writer too, until you started teaching.