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Writing practice

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So, perhaps before we get into the main thinking about how we might ‘teach’ Creative Writing, it’s really good to immerse yourself in the world of a Creative Writing exercise. Here’s one that I first encountered during a workshop with Michael Symmons Roberts, a Professor of Poetry and who you’ve already heard from earlier. Importantly, I’m going to tell you why and how this exercise works. Much later in the course we’re going to think about how to construct our own exercise, and walk participants towards a desired outcome, so I want to model that for you here.

I think abstract nouns and feelings are really hard to write about, and certainly very difficult to write about well. If we say someone is ‘happy’ or someone is ‘anxious’, what does that really mean, when those emotions are experienced by everyone in a unique way? If I write “he walked into the room and looked sad”, that doesn’t really tell me anything. These abstracts, and emotions, tend to be where most people begin in their writing, and so this exercise is a way of finding new and more interesting ways to talk about. You’ll see in the coming exercise, I break it down into lots of little steps, so that less confident writers can feel they have a necessary structure, whilst still giving more experienced writers space to move how they wish.

So, firstly, I just want you to write down an emotion which occurs to you (Sadness, Excitement, Boredom, Hunger).

Next I want you to write down somewhere that you might hang out with your friends or family (the cinema, the restaurant, the beach, the takeaway, the football match, etc.)

Once you’ve got those two things, we need to turn them into a title, that looks like the one below:

I MET (EMOTION WORD) IN THE/AT THE (PLACE)

So I met Sadness at the Cinema

or I met Hunger at the Beach

Now you’ve got that title, I simply want you to take it literally. What would it be to meet Sadness, if it were a real living thing? What would they move like, smell like, what would they be wearing, what would their skin feel like if you touched it (would they have skin?) what would their voice sound like if they spoke?

This might come out as a piece of descriptive prose or just notes to yourself for now. Give yourself five minutes to do this.

Once your time is up, read through and highlight any interesting phrases or ideas- these can then be put into your Creative Bank for when it comes time to describe a character with that emotion. So for instance, rather than just saying someone looked ‘sad’, I might be able to repurpose my description from this exercise, and write something like: “He walked into the room, wearing all black, his voice two octaves lower than I’d heard it before”.

This kind of simple exercise, fun and broken down into small steps, which leads to interesting outcomes (in this case the personification of abstract nouns in order to find new language for emotion) is often the cornerstone of Creative Writing teaching.

© Manchester Metropolitan University
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Introduction to Teaching Creative Writing

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