Carina Rodney on teaching creative writing

Posted by Carina Rodney

I come from a teaching background and now work as a creative writing facilitator, lecturer, sometimes tutor or just as a writer. Different titles in different places. Basically, I try and help people achieve their writing aims as part of short or long term projects. When my first play was commissioned in 1998 I went in to the college where I worked and resigned. I was going to be a full-time professional writer. Six months later I had to go and ask for my job back. A lesson learnt in both humility and reality. Gradually, I weaned myself away from full time teaching, to part time, and then to freelance creative writing teaching which is where I have been for the last fifteen years.

I have worked as a writer with ages ranging from reception age children to a group of memoir writers aged from eighty-three to ninety-five. I work on projects ranging from half a day in length, to eighteen months. My work can be based in schools, museums, art galleries, community groups, football clubs, cinemas, pop-up shops, theatres and universities. I have worked with film makers, animators, actors, book makers, artists and musicians to develop and deliver creative programs and quite often I find myself delivering projects on my own. I also work with arts and heritage partners as well as teachers to develop their roles in delivering creative writing workshops. My work is varied, challenging, sporadic and over the course of a year puts me consistently in the minimum wage bracket.

One of the best parts of teaching creative writing is that I am around other writers and when my enthusiasm flags for my own work and the disappointments that can bring, I am inspired by the ideas and creativity of my fellow writers. Teaching gives me flexibility and an income almost sufficient to work on my own projects. When I have commissions for theatre projects I can push myself into the luxury of a being a tax payer. For the most part I plan and design my own projects from an initial brief, and in schools I get to work outside an increasingly restrictive and numbing curriculum.

Outcomes from projects have included collections of prose and poetry, the production of full length radio and stage plays, animation, film scripts, literary events and public readings, websites, hand crafted books, pantomimes and podcasts. I have seen writers I have worked with go on to become professional writers and tutors themselves. I have had the privilege of watching plays written by students and to see reluctant writers develop confidence and new skills. I get to talk about writing, read new writing, meet new writers. I’ve never wanted to go back to a conventional job even though the idea of a pension becomes increasingly beguiling the further I get from any possible definition of youthful.

Apart from a few time tested writing exercises guaranteed to yield results I write new material for each project I am involved in. I approach each new writing exercise with the question: Is this useful? Would this exercise help me develop my work? If not, there’s no point in asking anyone else to do it. Talking about the process and sharing your experiences both good and bad as a writer is useful. Even the youngest writers are curious about what’s involved in taking an initial idea through to production and clearly enjoy the tales of my many failures and production meeting humiliations. One primary school class comprehensively tracked my long term failure to succeed at Emmerdale over the course of a year long residency.

I like to think that I hold my students to very high standards, and reflect the processes of professional practice, that there is always something to be questioned, improved, rejected and found of worth. Yes; there is a good chance they will hate you at the time but an even greater chance they will appreciate the achievement of their completed work as well as value work in progress. It is important to be honest and genuinely enthusiastic and to remember to listen, share and contribute as part of the group. In any writing class, whatever the range of abilities and experiences, everyone present is a writer. I am often inspired by what my fellow writers are creating, their approaches, their voices, ideas and determination. We are all learning. We all have something important to say.

5 tips

1. Be involved in the development of projects as much as possible. Meet or speak to the people involved in the commission, planning and delivery of projects. It’s much easier to sort out issues at this early stage than later.

2. Be wary of the tickers of lists, the collectors of learning objectives, the token gesturers, the gifted and talented pickers, the improvers of SATS results, those who confuse writer with substitute English teacher. RUN FROM IT ALL!

3. Ask for a contract or at least your terms and conditions conformed by email even for the shortest of projects. Be aware of standard rates of pay for this type of work, figure in planning, materials and travel in your daily rate, if not paid separately.

4. Be realistic and honest about what works. Would you join a writing class with thirty-five members that offered no chance for individual feedback?

5. Be flexible – learn how to adapt, twist and turn exercises to best fit your class and always have more work prepared than you think you need. No matter how detailed and well thought out any outline of a project may be, be prepared to change it – quickly!

Carina Rodney is a multi-award winning writer from the North East of England, with a background in theatre and radio writing, now also moving into feature film and TV writing as well. She is a current Royal Literary Fund fellow and BAFTA Crew participant (2019/20). Her original 14-part audio period drama series, Hell Cats, is now available on Audible as a flagship production for their scripted drama division. She has also recently developed a body horror feature screenplay, The Change, with producer/ director Jennifer Handorf, which is currently in pre-production and received BFI Early Development Funding, was a FrightFest ‘New Blood’ finalist in 2019 and was a selected project for Frontieres Film Market and Marche Du Film 2020. Her accolades include a residential attachment and award from the National Theatre, Peggy Ramsay award, and Northern Exposure BBC Development Award. She is currently developing a number of original drama ideas for film and television. Current commissions include an upcoming Audible original drama series and a TV feature for an international production company.

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