Creative Writing in English

The Language Centre offers a number of optional courses to all students of Tampere University. The majority are work-life or academic oriented, covering such topics as professional writing or academic presentations. One of the exceptions is Creative Writing in English. As the name suggests, this course fosters the writing of any text which is original and probably fictional, in any form. Students who have taken the course so far have produced short stories, long stories, excerpts from a novel, poetry, song lyrics, science fiction, drama and fantasy. There have also been texts written in the style of a magazine column, and some which were original translations.

All writing produced on the course is in English. This does require a certain level of ability in the language, although perfection is neither expected nor necessary. Although the particular focus in the approach to the texts produced by the students is very much on the creative aspect, a knowledge of grammar structures and a reasonably wide vocabulary is needed to produce original texts that are readable. Every text gets individual feedback from the teacher, with comments ranging from the use of literary techniques, characterization, structure and diction to rhythm and line breaks in the case of poetry.

The students are divided into three groups that stay together for the whole course. Each week half of the students in each group post a text to the private course blog. After reading the three texts before class, the group members spend the first half of the class discussing each text in turn. The readers comment on their personal response to the text, with the author just listening. Comments can cover any literary aspect of the text: structure, use of language, characterization, literary techniques, style. This method allows the author to get a pure response to their work. As writers, we know what we think we mean when we write a sentence. We think we know what effect that sentence will have in the mind of the reader. But do we really? To hear how a selection of readers has reacted to our text is an invaluable aid in developing writing style. After the readers’ responses, the author has some minutes to reply.

After the peer feedback session the rest of the class is devoted to a writing exercise. These vary widely, but each exercise demands that the students write quite spontaneously on the topic, or in response to a given stimulus. The ensuing writing is private. It will inevitably be raw and unfinished. Although the writer may not always feel inspired to take the text further, this activity guarantees that writers are putting words down on paper, with some of that writing appearing in later weeks as finished texts posted for peer evaluation.

Towards the end of the course, each student selects one piece of their own work and writes an analysis of what they were aiming to achieve and how they tried to accomplish it. They are also asked if they wish to provide one of their texts to go on a public blog. There is no obligation to do this, but most writers are willing. If so, the text is first submitted for a close edit with grammar, spelling, vocabulary and stylistic issues being indicated. The author then makes the final decision which comments to act on and returns the final copy to go on the blog. To give an idea of the variety of texts produced, this is the address of this year’s public blog: http://writersatuta.blogspot.fi/. Earlier years are available at http://utawriters.blogspot.fi/ and http://creativewritersuta.blogspot.fi/.

These texts are a testament to the fact that given guidance and motivation students are still capable of producing good writing, a skill that will stand them in good stead in the future whatever path they choose in life.

Mike Horwood

University teacher