Issues and Challenges of Teaching Creative Writing
Writing simply refers to the graphic representation of language. It is taken as an act of transmitting thoughts, feelings and ideas from mind to paper. As a student of ELT, I cannot write a paragraph, compose a poem or even narrate a short story. I have been practicing to write for more than fifteen years but I cannot write what I want, and how I want. The problem I was facing with regard to creative writing encouraged me to look out for the issues and challenges in teaching creative writing. Had my teacher taught me about creative writing while I was in school, I would have been able to write creative writing such as poetry, drama, story and so on. Creative writing is personal writing where the purpose is to express thoughts, feeling and emotions. Creative writing is expressed in an imaginative, unique, and sometimes poetic way. According to Harmer, “The term creative writing suggests imaginative tasks, such as writing poetry, stories and plays.” So it represents teaching writing of all genre of literature such as drama, fiction, poetry, personal narration, story and so on. According to Gaffield-Vile (1998), “Creative writing is a journey of self-discovery, and self-discovery prompts effective learning” (p. 31).
Morley (2007) states, “Some people believe there is something new or untested about the discipline of creative writing” (p. 7). Teaching creative writing is a very challenging job to the teachers even though they have lots of knowledge about subject matter. It is because of developed form or genre of language which expresses ideas, information and thoughts by graphic representation. I believe that the aim of teaching creative writing is to make the students able to express themselves in different literary forms. If a teacher gives imaginative writing tasks to the students, they will be engaged and self motivated to write frequently, so it is effective way to improve their skill and ability of language. There are so many issues and challenges of teaching creative writing like critical analysis, formation and structure, wider area, individual variation, untrained English teachers, insufficient time for instruction, lack of resources and materials which are discussed below in details.
Issues and Challenges of teaching creative writing
Harmer (2008) states, “The kind of writing we ask students to do (and the way they we ask them to do it) will depend, as most other things do, on their age, level, learning styles, and interests” ( p. 112).
Different Genre/forms of literature
There are various branches or forms of literature which is called genre. Harmer (2008) states, “A genre is a type of writing which members of a discourse community would instantly recognize for what it was. Thus we recognize a small ad in a newspaper the moment we see it because, being members of a particular group, or community, we have seen many such texts before and are familiar with the way they are constructed” (p. 113). These genres have their own rules, regulations, norms, values, principles, theories, structural patterns, features, types, formations and so on. The teachers have to build creative writing. For this they have to engage the students with creative writing activities which are easy and interesting to take part in, so it helps students to achieve the success in their writing. When students have gained sufficient knowledge of creative writing they can develop writing habit. Therefore the teacher should have the knowledge to teach different genres to make his/her students able to write creative writing.
Different individual may produce equally good results through widely different process. This means that there is probably no one ‘right’ system of writing that we should recommend; rather, we should suggest available various possible strategies, encouraging individuals to experiment and search for one that is personally effective (Ur, 1996).
Lack of Motivation
Motivation is commonly thought of as an inner drive, impulse, emotion or desire that moves one to a particular action. It is the main determinants of teaching creative writing. “It is easier and more useful to think in terms of the ‘motivated’ learner: one who is willing or even eager to invest effort in learning activities and progress” (Ur, 1996 p. 274). The more you motivate the students the more students are motivated and get ready for creative writing so it helps the teachers to teach creative writing effectively. Motivation promotes students’ active participation, so it helps the students to give uniqueness in learning, background for creative writing, and process of creative writing. Motivation helps teachers to provide ability to the students and make learners write creative writing. So we can say that motivation aids the students to achieve success in their creative writing attempts.
Untrained English teachers
The untrained teacher cannot teach the process of different genre of literature as equal as trained teacher. S/he lacks proper knowledge and will not be able to provide good ideas to write creatively and use different strategies and techniques to involve the students in creative writing. For example there are various ways of teaching poem like, acrostic poem (a poem where certain letters in each letters spells out a word or phrase), opposites poem (a poem where two opposite things can exist side by side in a person or situation), group poem (a poem written in a group where at least a line will be contributed by one person of a group) and so on.
Insufficient time for instruction
Teachers and students have limited time for their teaching and learning process in given time framework of institutions. Both students and teachers are inhibited by time, so creative writing is compelled to be taught only for the completion of the lessons. As a result, all the composition lessons are given to the students as homework and another aspect to the students’ difficulties is the perception that taking much time to write a composition is a sign of failure on their part. Unfortunately, students and teachers apparently fail to utilize the opportunity to process writing to fulfill their tasks satisfactorily. “The lack of the use of time to develop students’ creative writing skills led problems in teaching creative writing”(Adeyemi, 2012).
Focus on Surface Errors
Teachers are habituated to assess the students’ writing on surface errors by their profession. They give feedback to the students regarding spelling, punctuation instead of students’ creativity which doesn’t help to improve students’ creative writing ability. As the main focus is on structure as opposed to content or meaning, the students’ compositions will be meaningless and valueless. So intentionally or not, unsatisfactory message goes to the students, which indicates their lack of grammar, structure, punctuation rather than main issues or students’ intention of creative writing. Their intention, their creativity, their ideas and their effort goes unnoticed as teachers mostly focus on the surface errors and fail to acknowledge the hard work the students have attempted. It makes students hesitate and frustrated in themselves in their writing because of spelling, surface error, and punctuation marker. Certainly, there is more to composition writing than the mere issues of spelling and punctuation. Thus it indicates that it is not easy to teach creative writing to the students.
Writing process is also an issue in teaching creative writing. Some of the learner differences are because of their age, practice, motivation, cultural background, particular group etc. These create challenge to teach writing process to the students. Harmer (2008) states that, when students are writing for writing, we will want to involve them in the process of writing. In the real world; this typically involves planning what we are going to write, drafting it, reviewing and editing what we have written and then producing a final version. We will need to encourage students to plan, draft and edit for teaching creative writing so it is very challenging task for the teachers.
Prevention of issues and challenges of teaching creative writing
In order to prevent these issues and challenges, I have discussed some prevention and solutions in detail.
Assessing creative writing
Assessing creative writing helps students know their position and about their creativity through writing. So the teacher should evaluate creative writing by using the same criteria as for different genre. Morley (2007) states that, essays and examination materials tend to be assessed using the same criteria as for an expository essay. Creative writing is judged mostly by literary criteria, and these criteria may fit the critical mind but are not always sympathetic to emotional and personal matters (Hunt, 2001). They should give more emphasis on the importance of original creative writing and evaluate to give appropriate grade by feeling, imagining and involving as like as a real writer of creative writing.
Students must have access to high quality instruction designed to help them meet high expectations regarding creative writing. So the teachers should employ different strategies such as motivating; providing opportunities to write creative writing, providing concepts and teaching them to write creatively and employ those concepts; providing imaginative thinking and writing that connects their writing across different genre of literature and providing individual guidance, assistance, and support to fill gaps in background knowledge of creative writing.
Clinical teaching takes place in the context of patient care. It is an intensely personal relationship between students and teacher so it is carefully sequenced. First teachers teach skills, subjects, concepts and process of creative writing; then they re-teach different strategies or approaches to the students to involve them in creative writing such as poetry, story, and drama to those who fail to meet expected performance level of creative writing after initial instruction; finally, they evaluate and provide feedback of creative writing to the students. Teachers conduct creative writing assessment to monitor the students’ progress and instruct them to modify their writing if necessary. Teacher should deal with anxiety, challenges to authority, and lead stimulating discussions and labs. To teach effectively, the teacher should respond appropriately to shy, withdrawn, or disruptive students and use technology more and more for clinical teaching effectively.
Collaborative writing makes the students active in writing that helps teacher to teach creative writing to his/her students in effective way. Harmer (2008) states that, students gain a lot from constructing texts together. For example, if teacher sets up a story circle and provide the hints or starting line and asks the students, the students easily form or construct whole story by discussion and prediction. Strip story activity also helps to teach story to the students in a collaborative way and helps students to engage in creative writing with their full interest.
Creative writing exercise
Teachers should offer some well-tried classroom activities that may motivate students to want to write in English. It proves, ‘practice makes a man perfect’. Likewise doing some creative writing exercises during the class and in leisure can help the students’ to write creatively. If the teacher asks the students’ to write lots of creative writing exercises, it can give support their creative writing and generate in them creative ideas. So the very best method to teach creative writing is by providing creative exercises to the students.
There are different types of teaching writing; guided writing, parallel writing and free writing that will help students to produce appropriate texts even with fairly limited English. However, as their language level improves, we need to make sure that their creative writing begins to express their own creativity through different genre of literature.
Teaching creative writing is very challenging task to the language teachers because of lack of time, motivation, lack of training and building the writing habit as well as creative writing involves various genre of literature such as drama, fiction, poetry, personal narration, story and so on. So it is very difficult to teach creative writing to the students. The main problems in teaching creative writing are different genre/forms of literature, individual difference, lack of motivation, untrained English teacher, insufficient time for instruction, focus on surface errors, writing process and to prevent these issues and challenges of teaching creative writing we can employ assessing creative writing, effective instruments, clinical teaching, creative writing exercise, instant writing, collaborative writing, writing in other genre, using music and pictures and so on.
The author is perusing his Master’s degree in ELT at Kathmandu University School of Education (KUSOED). Currently, he is teaching in a private school in Kathmandu as a secondary level English teacher.
Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. Longman, England: Pearson Education Limited
Hunt, C. (2001). Assessing Personal writing, Autobiography
Mills, P. (2006). The Routledge Creative Creative writing Coursebook . Routledge .
Morley, D. (2007). Introduction to Creative Writing . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spiro, J. (2004). Creative Poetry Writing . Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ur, P. (1996). A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.