Since leaving full-time teaching and opening the book shop, I’ve become ever more convinced that reading and writing are essential elements of a happy life.
Sadly, there is little room for independent reading and creative expression in schools as the curriculum becomes ever more restrictive. Teachers and students alike are being put under increasing pressure to perform.
So often in the classroom, my heart would break as I had to reduce a wonderful piece of literature to its bones so that the students could analyse the life out of it and convince examiners that they knew what an simile or personification was. I know many teachers who feel the same.
Even though I believe that literary analysis is a wonderful skill, I don’t believe that it should be taught at the expense of the sheer enjoyment of books, plays and poetry – there should be time allowed in the curriculum for engagement and individual response to literature, not just a formulaic ‘read this, think this and then write that’ approach.
Writing For Pleasure
Sadly, it’s also the case with creative writing. The exam-only system now requires students to write creatively under exam conditions for forty five minutes, in order to show they know how to structure and craft a piece of descriptive writing or narrative.
Forty five minutes!
Anyone who has ever done any writing knows that the first forty five minutes of a writing session involves staring out of the window, sucking a pen and wondering how to start. That’s when the ideas brew. That’s the best bit – the creative bit.
The powers that be are requiring our young people to create to order, hitting a checklist of mark-worthy literary features in order to get that magic number on their results slip.
Fine. But writing should be about more than that.
Writing should be about self-expression. About writing down your thoughts and feelings in order to find out what they really are. About processing and making sense of the world around you. About trying out different personas and experiences in a safe way. About having fun. And all of these things are absolutely vital to our young people.
Teenagers in this country are currently experiencing an unprecedented mental-health crisis. They are under more pressure than ever before; in schools, on social media, in the job market. Add to that the politically and environmentally uncertain times we live in, and it’s hardly surprising that we are seeing rises in depression, anxiety, self-harm and myriad other expressions of misery.
Add to that the degradation of creative subjects in schools, and the opportunities for healthy self-expression are drastically reduced. This article from The Conversation explores the possible effects of this situation:
Creative Spaces – a safe space.
That’s where Creative Spaces – Readwell and Wright’s new writing group for young adults – comes in.
Our intention is to create a safe space where young people can come and express themselves in writing. Led by an experienced creative writer and teacher, the sessions will be completely free of judgement, criticism, or imposed parameters. I will be providing ideas, a quiet space, tea, biscuits and support for our members’ creativity, and other than that, the sessions will be whatever the members want them to be.
Our young writers may share their work if they wish – or keep it to themselves. They won’t be writing for ‘likes’ or for an examiner’s marks – they’ll be writing for enjoyment, exploration and self-expression.
Suitable for young people of 12 to 16, the sessions last ninety minutes, cost £8 and run once a fortnight at 7pm on Monday evenings.