A first force, common to most writing groups, is the freeing up of the imagination, which comes about through -
- mining memory,
- experimenting with language,
- probing ideas,
- delighting in the sound of words as well as their meanings, histories and associations,
- reeling off lists,
- inventing characters,
- breaking and making texts
- ... and sharing.
Sometimes later, but always working alongside those freedoms, another force works to develop a critical voice through
- wide reading and reflection
- the respectful scrutiny of each other's writing in regular workshops,
- writing for different purposes, in a variety of forms and voices
- daily practice and weekly revisiting,
- greater confidence and courage, even an urgency to chase down meaning, to strengthen voice and values, and to make the writing more opaque.
Seamus Heaney (Aldeburgh 2010) regarded his earlier writing as stained glass, whereas he thought his later writing resembled clear glass through which his voice shone with less decoration. He had moved towards a surer, fuller and more open conversation with the reader.
Writing is a tool for discovery and learning, but it takes practice and courage to use it. It is easy to be intimidated by external judgements, so that often the fear of not doing justice to oneself or one's fellow writers, can inhibit any flow of writing at all. As Donald Graves observed 30 years ago, 'the problem with writing is no writing.'
Yet, be the observations ever so simple, if truly expressed, even the least promising can be prodded and teased into something which resonates with the human condition. Effective writing is often tentative, open to doubt and possibility, following a line of thought in a series of adjustments. It can be as if the crudely shaped clay of the first direction is re-moulded by subsequent words and phrases. It is important to have a go.
"Begin with an individual and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created - nothing. That is because we are all queer folk, queerer behind our faces and voices than we want anyone to know or than we know ourselves." (The opening of F Scott Fitzgerald's 'All the Sad Young Men' 1926)
In November, I have been working in Primary and Secondary schools with NWP writing teachers, and seeing the positive effects on learners who are encouraged to engage fully with the same dynamics as those undergraduates with whom Shelagh works.
Here are some writing reflections from a 13 year old girls and boys who have an NWP teacher:
I like writing in my notebook - I like a bit of a mess and the freedom - and you get to share the ideas in your head, to get the reader to feel what you felt. ... I like our Friday circle: everyone reads and we get to know each other... Talking about writing helps my ideas - there might be more than one interpretation. They may enlighten me or I might enlighten them. It's nice to help and to be helped by others. I am learning how to use punctuation to clarify my intentions to the reader ... I like to imitate and become my favourite writers. I wrote a blog in y8 in the style of Rachel Rees, but my friends said it was too similar... I write more now, and the teacher writes with us. She shows how she'd write and I can take ideas. After talking with my teacher, I am now thinking about foreshadowing and personification in my own writing ... I really enjoy writing at home when I have time and I'm not rushed ...
Writing flourishes where teachers have 'inside knowledge' about the writing process. When teachers write themselves, they give their pupils permission to experiment, to flow and to reflect.
So I worry about the implications of a recent DfE document which refers rather differently to 'drafting'. It seems to promote some very reductive, staccato and questionable approaches to the writing process, which will require serious 'mediation' by writing teachers if their children are not to be put off writing.
"Pupils working at national standard will, at the end of Key stage 1 (age 7)
A pupil is able to demonstrate sufficient evidence of the following: ...
- Uses the drafting process to: ... encapsulate what is to be said, sentence by sentence, to compose meaningful narratives."
There is a consultation which closes on 18 December. The 6 questions concern themselves more with manageability than principle. For example, Q4 asks whether these descriptors 'adequately reflect the national curriculum programmes of study'. So, if you have difficulty with the curriculum, you may find it hard to 'compose a meaningful narrative'. You can respond online at www.education.gov.uk/consultations, or by email, or by post. Result of the consultation will be published 'around 26 February 2015'.
What do you think?
NWP outreach director