Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
My time ‘teaching’ creative writing
By Curt Swarm, Empty Nest
Feb. 19, 2023 2:43 pm
I had the privilege of “teaching” a creative-writing class in Ginnie's and my home this winter. The reason I put “teaching” in quotation marks is, as anyone who's ever taught creative writing knows, you don't really teach creative writing, you just get out of the way and let the students write their hearts out. What the class provides is a weekly deadline, and a platform in which the students can write and have their work critiqued.
There are a lot of writers out there who are writing, and then pestering their friends and neighbors to read and critique their work. It can be an agonizing experience. “Have you read my story yet? No? Well, when you get to it, let me know, will you?” (The friend's eyes roll.)
I remember almost losing a friend once because I asked him to read the first few chapters of my novel. He became rather angry and told me in no uncertain terms that he was too busy. My feelings were hurt. He finally and reluctantly gave me feedback, but it was gruff and to the point. I never asked him again.
In a class environment, the students are all in the same boat, so to speak, and it's a matter of helping each other out for the benefit of all. And they learn from each other.
When I was in college, I took all the creative writing the university had to offer, including a graduate level class. The format in these classes was pretty much the same: the students submitted writing to the class each week and the students plus the professor critiqued their writing. The students were free more-or-less to write what they wanted, whether it be poetry, short stories, or the beginning of a novel. I remember such a feeling of opportunity. I had all these stories in me, and finally had the excuse to write them. Writing took priority over all other school work.
As an adult, I got the wild idea that I could teach creative writing in our home. I rationalized that if a piano teacher can teach piano lessons in his or her home, and an art teacher can teach art in his or her home, well, I should be able to teach creative writing in our home. I was right. Over the last few years, I've “taught” a number of classes and the results have been outstanding. A number of books and poems have been published.
This last class, which has just wound down, is no exception. I like to “teach” creative writing in the winter because winter is a good time to be indoors writing. There's not so much pulling the writer away, like mowing, sky diving and snorkeling, or summer vacations. I limit the class to six students so that the material doesn't get overwhelming. I don't pay too much attention to mechanics, and just let the writer get their story out in any manner they can. Mechanics can be worked on later. I even brought in a couple of “experts” to talk to the students about such things as social media, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and self-publishing.
The real test of whether a creative-writing class has been successful is if the students continue to write after the class is over. One of my students is writing the life story of his grandmother who was an orphan on the Orphan Train that made its way west from New York City, adopting out orphans as it went from town to town. It's a precious story, and this student writer is continuing to churn out chapter after chapter daily. My goodness, I couldn't be more pleased, and the writer is tickled to death that he finally has the excuse to write the life story of his grandmother.
The real, real benefit of this class, as far as I'm concerned, is the growth that takes place in me in watching these writers mature in their art (and writing is an art). The bonds and friendships that develop in this class are priceless. All art is for the glory of God and God has given His blessing over this Creative Writing Class of 2023.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, find him on Facebook, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.