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Creative Writing Posted on Sat, February 08, 2014 21:09:38

I hold my hands up: I’m generally in favour of rules
and regulations.

I think that employers should stick to strict health
and safety rules, fair employment policies and minimum wages, even if that
means they can’t always do exactly what the heck they want or hire ten people
for the price of one. I’m one of those PC-Gone-Mad brigade (if you’re a Daily Mail reader) who thinks that
anyone coming into contact with kids should have a criminal records check, even
if that causes some mild inconvenience on school trips. And I definitely don’t approve of loud
conversations in the quiet coach.

Usually, though, when it comes to anything connected
to creative writing, I’m not keen on any kind of strictures. Only something is
beginning to make me change my mind.

As you may know, one of the subjects that always makes
me jump onto my soapbox is anything connected to the teaching of creative
writing. I think people who say it can’t be taught are plain ignorant, but I
also think there should be some standards to ensure that when it is taught, it is
done well.

The realisation that unfortunately it’s often a
downright rip-off, and that aspiring writers are sometimes paying a lot of money
for very poor or lazy teaching, has led me to rethink whether the whole arena
should be such a free-for-all.

For example, when I first started teaching adults at
Berwick
, I railed somewhat against all the rules and regs I had to take on board.
Every lesson has to include some sort of attempt to boost basic functional
skills, such as maths and IT (I’m still not convinced about this bit, actually, in
a creative session).

I have to write the most onerous, highly detailed,
lesson plans to a given formula, as well as weekly updates on how each student
is doing, all of which have to be checked by a supervisor. These processes add
a good hour or more to my (unpaid) preparation time.

At first, this drove me to despair, as did the
spectre of a non-writer coming in to moderate and evaluate the sessions and the
ever-looming shadow of the Ofsted inspector, who I thought should have better
things to do.

But, guess what (and you won’t hear me say this very
often, so enjoy it) – I was wrong.

I’m coming to see the sense of (most of) it. The
evaluation and moderation and the checking-up, certainly. If you follow this
blog you will know that I was recently sounding off about
old, rehashed, writing exercises that tutors often trot out, and the general
lack of imagination put into some classes that purport to be creative.

I’m also coming to the slow and terrible realisation
that anyone can call themselves a creative writing teacher. It’s astonishing.
You can have absolutely no credentials – no qualifications, no prizes, no
published work and precious little teaching experience – but you can still put up
a sign in a public place or online and advertise your ‘creative writing’
sessions.

Journalism also suffers from this lack of regulation, to
an extent. Only this month, in a national writing magazine, someone wrote to
the letters page saying they were ‘setting up as a freelance journalist’ and
did they have to register with any organisation or do they just need to print
some business cards? No one who had any journalism training or industry experience
would ask this sort of dumb question, so we can reasonably assume she is a complete beginner. Disgracefully,
the magazine said she didn’t need to do anything formal. No mention of training,
of professionally supportive organisations like the NUJ, or of any kind of professional
experience. She is no more a ‘journalist’ than I am a nuclear physicist. What
she is, is a fantasist. But she’s not alone – the amount of people who call themselves journalists when, patently, they are not, but they just like the sound of the job title, is a constant shock to me.

And I can see that it’s the same with creative
writing tuition. Anyone who fancies themselves in the role can go ahead and print
their business cards. And then they are let loose on people who want to learn
something very, very important and potentially life-changing. They can pocket people’s money (often a large amount of it) and there is no one to check whether they know what they’re
talking about, whether their feedback has any credibility, whether they have
any useful professional experience to pass on, or even whether they aren’t downright
dangerous.

I’m beginning to think (and I say this with
apologies to anyone who’s been oppressed by Ofsted, which is far from perfect) that we need some sort of
regulatory body for creative writing tuition. In order to do it, you
should have some sort of recognised qualification or, instead, some sort of genuine
record of writing publication, to show you are the real deal.

I think an official body should be able to step in
and say if the tuition is rubbish or if your people skills are terrible or the
content of the lessons is dull and plagiaristic.

Yes, I know this is probably impossible to police. Or
is it? Suppose I put a sign up in my local cafe advertising French lessons. I
have very basic French. Tres basic. I’m
not a languages teacher, so I’ve never studied the right techniques for getting
those skills across to a beginner, adult or child. And I’ve only been to France
a handful of times, so my practical experience of how the language is used in the real world is also negligible. But, you
know what, I quite like the sound of the words and I wouldn’t mind earning a
few extra quid. And I guess I could bluff my way past someone who knows less
than I do.

Or suppose I advertised my services as a masseuse. No, I’m not trained and I’ve never done anything beyond the occasional shoulder rub. But I once read a book on it and I’ve had the odd massage myself, so that qualifies me to do it, right? Er – no!

Someone would report me, wouldn’t they? Someone
would put a stop to my charlatanism? I’d really like to think so. So how can it
be that people can filch money from those who want to learn to write creatively,
and no one can put any kind of halt to it?

Fancy yourself as a creative writing teacher? Fine –
then get something published, so you have some experience to pass on. Show that
your work’s been recognised in the industry, not just by your friends and
family. Learn how to teach, and get a qualification that says so. Host your
sessions in an environment where someone can check that you’re not an imposter.
Even then, you’ll still be learning how to do it, week in, week out. But please,
let’s give the profession a good name. Writing is too important a skill to
leave it to those whose credentials are pure fiction.



February 8th

Journalism Posted on Sat, February 08, 2014 13:34:46

Writing press releases for next week’s relaunch of Alnwick’s Bailiffgate Museum. I know far too much about this mouse than is good for me.



February 7th

Creative Writing Posted on Sat, February 08, 2014 13:31:54

The old Movietone camera at the lovely (but very crowded) Tyneside Cinema, where I had lunch with friend Helen Logan – who I have known for more years than I care to mention. Felt a bit ‘heritage’ myself after all the reminiscing!