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Helen Harper

The Joy of Writing

  • January 14, 2014
  • Blog
  • 1 Comment

By day I’m an English teacher and by night I’m an author – and there’s often somewhat of a dichotomy between the two. While I teach how to write and develop many different text types, from arguments to discursive essays to reviews and so on, naturally creative writing is frequently a feature of lessons.

There are numerous ways to approach original writing. Sometimes I’ll introduce a particular stimulus: a piece of music or a news article perhaps. Other times the writing will be focused around exploring a particular text that we are reading in class, such as an epilogue or the tale of a minor character. However, always, absolutely always, I make sure that every student plans out what they are going to write first. Without a clear narrative arc, students’ work often ends up becoming confusing or too full of plot twists. There are also inevitably those who are unable to think of any other to tie up their stories than to finish with the disastrous old ‘I woke up and discovered it was all a dream’.

And yet, personally, I don’t plan. I can’t. I’m in the terrible trap as a teacher of ‘do what I say, not what I do’. When I was furiously typing away on my first novel, Bloodfire, I realised about halfway through that, what I’d started just for fun and made up as I went along, could actually genuinely be a real novel. Therefore, in order to make sure that it could reach that dizzying potential, I suddenly planned out what was going to happen. I reasoned that I’d have a better chance of making it to the end once I knew what the end was going to be.

Unfortunately, from that point on, the writing became considerably less fun. When I knew myself what was going to take place, my job as the writer just became filling in the blanks. Painting by numbers. When I didn’t know what was going to happen next because I hadn’t planned it first, it was so much more exciting to see where the plot and the characters ended up. It was almost as if I became a reader as much as a writer, watching the events unfold before my eyes, filled with suspense about the next move. One of my previous posts dealt with writer’s block – and I really only every truly suffer from that particular affliction when I know what’s going to happen next.

When I’m deeply in my writing ‘zone’, I have various scenarios that whizz around my mind (usually, of course, when I’m trying to sleep), but I never firmly decide on any until I am deep within the physical act of writing. This never gibes with what I tell my students to do and I often feel guilty about it. However, I know through years of teaching experience that they need to plan for the story to be successful…but I think I need to let go of that notion of success when I’m teaching, even if only sometimes, in favour of achieving success in the sheer enjoyment of writing. Because it really is fun.

1 Comment
  • Danette Bloomfield • 2nd March 2017 at 1:37 am

    I can relate to what you are saying. I also do a much better job of writing when I haven’t planned beforehand what I’m going to say. My mind tends to block me when I actually have a plan. However, once I have written down when I initially want to say, I edit until I am sick of doing so. I did really enjoy Bloodfire, so I’d say you’re doing something right. [I liked it enough that I went and bought the rest of the series within 24 hours of reading it.]

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