Double Vision: Teaching Teaching Creative Writing
I see my task, as someone engaged in teaching creative writing, as having two purposes: first, teaching people how to teach, and second, teaching them how to teach writing. I try to draw lines between many interconnected ideas: that creative writing teachers must have a body of knowledge, experience and understanding to impart, and that they need to grasp the complexity and paradoxical nature of the writing process.
Writing is a deeply complex, emotional, psychological, creative, and intellectual process.
It is also very technical and specific. Writing teachers will not only be teaching skills and technique, but also engaging with future colleagues, the people whose stories will shape our culture through time.
I learned to teach writing through experience, reading and trial and error so it is a great privilege in my job to have a chance to engage with brilliant graduate students in a conversation. And I am also conscious that teaching creative writing is a profession without, at the moment, a lot of teaching mentors, with very few textbooks or guidebooks, or places to exchange experiences and shared knowledge. Therefore it is a huge challenge as well as intellectually exciting to be part of this.
Creative writing has very strong relationships to other disciplines, such as English, education, psychology, sociology, and others. Writing draws on all knowledge and it is also very much about critical thinking. And, paradoxically, it is essentially only about writing, the creation of stories, of literature. And it also results in a product.
The skills taught in creative writing classes -- such as technique, craft, knowledge of language, of genre and form, knowledge of editing and revising -- are a series of related skills that can be taught, practiced, and applied in the process of learning to be a writer. Creative writing is a language-based skill; there are no external tools or techniques, no paint and canvas, no musical instrument to learn. In a sense the students come with their instrument -- ie, their sense of language -- built in, and language is also the primary tool of instruction.
So in addition to teaching about pedagogy, I am discussing with my students -- many of whom are already working teachers and writers -- the most important skills we can use within the classroom to assist emerging writers to become better writers, published writers, working writers, skilled writers.
Teaching creative writing means being part of this ongoing work towards critical understanding but teaching teaching creative writing means preparing, supporting and assisting creative writing teachers to engage in this thoughtful and challenging process.
Luanne Armstrong is a novelist, freelance writer, editor, and publisher. She has published over fifty stories and essays in magazines and journals, and is the author of fourteen books, including poetry, novels, and children’s books. Her most recent work, The Light Through the Trees: Reflections on Land and Farming, was short-listed for the 2013 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. She has taught creative writing at the University of Alberta, The College of the Rockies, the Kootenay School of Arts in Nelson, and the Okanagan School of Arts in Penticton, and is currently an adjunct professor of creative writing at the University of British Columbia.