I’m delighted to be welcoming Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn to Linda’s Book Bag today, not least because (like I was) Lindsay is a teacher as well as a writer (as I’d like to be).
When I heard that Lindsay is also a teacher of creative writing I wanted to know if she felt that was a help or a hindrance for her own writing. This is what she told me:
The Delights and Perils of Combining Being a Writer with Teaching Creative Writing.
I am a writer. I write novels, short stories and flash fiction. My first two novels ‘Unravelling’ and ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ have both won awards, and my third ‘The Broken Road’ has just been published. My short stories have appeared in anthologies, and one of my flash fictions was successful in the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction competition in 2013.
I also teach creative writing. I run courses and workshops on the novel and the short story. In addition, I’m a judge for the flash fiction competition run by the Worcestershire Literature Festival.
So, why am I telling you these things? Why have I set being a writer side by side with teaching creative writing? Surely the two roles are highly compatible. Not necessarily. Combining both is a mixed blessing, as the title of the article suggests. So, let’s start with the positives!
To teach a subject, you have to understand it better than if you were simply practising it yourself. The same is true whether you’re teaching Maths or creative writing. You need to be very clear in your own understanding of techniques in order to explain them. In creative writing, areas such as point of view, and showing versus telling, can prove a minefield for the aspiring author. You might think you understand, but then you write things such as Geoff was angry and depressed. You tell readers what Geoff is feeling rather than giving them the evidence and letting them deduce the emotions for themselves. For example, Geoff kicked the book across the floor. A reader can feel Geoff’s anger. He sat on the sofa with his head in his hands. A reader can see Geoff is depressed.
When you teach creative writing, you need to seek out examples such as these to help illustrate the craft to writing students. In doing so, you deepen your understanding and awareness.
I have learnt so much from exploring the craft of writing with students. I can see why a character fails to come to life, where the weaknesses in the structure are, at which moment the point of view hops between characters and back again. I enjoy teaching creative writing: it keeps me on my toes, studying the craft, searching for ways to make it relevant for students. I count myself lucky to have the opportunity.
But – and it’s a big but. The fact that I understand the craft so much better means my need to create something perfect is even greater. Every potential writer wants to produce a piece that is really good. Where the characters leap off the page; where the plot is compelling, the conflict intense, the vocabulary perfect. But the gulf between what is in a writer’s head, and what appears on the page is often immense. We have to give ourselves permission to write rubbish sometimes in order to get a first draft onto the page. Then it can be worked into something closer to the vision in the author’s head.
But giving yourself permission to write rubbish is almost impossible for a creative writing tutor. Knowing and understanding how good fiction works can inhibit a writer to the extent that paralysis sets in. You can’t write, in case what you write is ‘wrong’.
Hence the dilemma of the writer who is also a creative writing tutor: greater understanding of the craft versus an inhibiting need for perfection.
So, would I give up the teaching? Definitely not – I enjoy it too much, and I’ve met so many talented, lovely, interesting people as a result. The perils are there, but the delights far outweigh them.
I’d like to thank Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn so much for being on the blog and with her words ringing in my ears, I’m off to write some rubbish!
You can find out more about Lindsay and her writing on her website.