What Is Your Ideal Writing Teacher?

As you know from an earlier post, I’m in the process of planning my first creative writing class as a teacher. I’m excitedly picking poems and stories to read, as well as writing exercises, but at the same time it’s gotten me wondering about larger questions, such as what kind of a creative writing teacher I want to be, anyway. I’ve had my share of them over the years, both as an undergraduate and a grad student. I’ve had admirable, aloof ones, dispensing wisdom from on high; I’ve had young, hip ones, joking and one of the gang; I’ve had funny ones, and drill sargent-type ones who want to put their students through “writing boot camp” (that last teacher was a former Marine, so it figures). But what is the ideal?

The first thing, I think, is to (obviously) be myself. I don’t have the confidence (or the ego) to be a lofty personality; I’m also not a huge joker, so it would end up seeming forced and fakey if I tried a comedy routine with every class. I’m also not a hardliner; I don’t yell and discipline that well. What I do do well is talk. I love discussions; I love seeing ideas develop and blossom through conversation. I intend to get my students talking, and to let them take the reins in these discussions about literature.

Not all aspects of being a teacher can be freewheeling discussions, however. There needs to be a clear sense of the expectations and rules of the workshop. After all, students will be graded on their performance, so they have a right to know what will go into those grades. A good learning environment is one in which there are fairly strict expectations and guidelines, I believe, along with a lot of freedom of ideas to go with it. I’m ready for the students to hate my reading list, for example, and I want them to talk about it, as long as they can tell my why the books are bad.

So let’s turn it over to you, readers! What kind of teaching experience do you expect in a creative writing class?


  1. christine m wilson says:

    I really have now idea. I keep thinking that if I only knew how to start. Where to start. There are so many times that could be the begining. This book is something that I have been thinking about for a long time and feel it might be of help to someone or bring thoughts back to someone. I just feel I could write it with many feelings and be honest about it. But How do you write so it is not boring and make it alive. There has to be away to bring someones life awake on paper. That someone could live though things and be ok. It just seems confusing to me, I started it many times and get lost in the process, and never end it. I always think of things that should be inserted after the fact.
    I am so interested and glad I put this on my page.
    Looking forward to this

  2. Ken Bechtel says:

    Probably the ideal creative writing teacher would be one who can show students that they all have stories within themselves and that their individual perspectives are what make those stories unique and worthwhile. The instructor should strive to help students discover that kernel of a tale, that perhaps the student has overlooked or dismissed, and give them the tools/knowledge to make it grow. Getting students excited about their own stories is what will help them to develop these kernels and see them through to harvest.

    Sorry for the flowery text!

  3. My favorite writing teacher would be one who can identify my ‘voice’ then tell me when I am ‘off key’. I like to write memoir/travel and find that I do that better when I find and read authors that speak to me and hold my interest. This kind of reading helps me learn to tell the story. One favorite travel memoir is The Stone Boudoir by Teresa Maggio. Recent favorite memoir is The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls. Another good read by a former rocker chick is Severe Tire Damage – Barbara Bitella

  4. Allie says:

    Well I took a Creative Writing Course this year in school, and what i got out of it was that yes creativity is very important ,but now masterpiece is good/correct unless they understand the rules and principles of grammer. So I would spend time going over the rules, but go over it in a light tone not a drill sargent tone.

  5. mary brady says:

    I have never taken a creative writing class. However, I read a book called “Immediate Fiction” by Jerry Cleaver & got, what I think, is most basic point: there MUST be conflict of some kind. The character(s) must need or want something, and must fight through one or more obstacles to get it. In the end, the character(s) win or lose, and deal with the result.
    Blair, I read your short story, “Shells,” and it had all these elements. Both the aunt & the little girl had inner conflicts about opening up, each worked through their fears, & in the end, they pushed through & became closer for it.
    Tell young writers this BIG secret! Beginners like us flail around endlessly wondering why our stories don’t “work.”
    Stories need a conflict of some sort, & often that is what beginners don’t truly appreciate.
    As a Constant Reader of your website, I’d love it if you shared with us a few of the writing exercises you assign to your class! I’m disabled & I’m never going to be able to attend Creative Writing Classes, but I’d surely enjoy trying my hand at your assignments. Perhaps you cannot give out the actual ones you use in your class. If that’s the case, maybe give us a few YOU had to do in order to learn your craft.
    Good luck teaching! Just be yourself. But DON’T negotiate your reading list! Why should you? YOU are the teacher, they are your students. A classroom is not a democracy–you’ve been put in charge because you KNOW more & have greater experience. Your students must show some respect for that.
    If they don’t like your reading list, they can wait ’til they get a class to teach & assign their own.
    I went to UC Berkeley in the 70s, when students took control of everything. Our studies suffered immensely. It was lots of fun, but we didn’t learn squat.
    I’m reminded of an old jazz artist who complained about young upstarts: “As far as they’re concerned, it’s ‘No Parents, Just Children!'”
    Hard to do. L&K, Mary

  6. Justin says:

    Hi, Blair,

    As a regular reader of your blogs, I encourage you to take the same approach to your class that have with your posts. Be consistent to keep your students focused, be creative to keep them interested, and be open enough to foster healthy discussion and debate. The same principles that keep people coming to read your advice and opinions on writing, will be the same principles that keep your students engaged.

    In regards to humor and discipline, apply the same principles that you do to your writing and avoid gimmick and shtick. While I enjoy a great sense of humor or odd personality, I would rather attend a class driven by the lecturer’s passion for the subject than one in which the lecturer is trying to entertain or gain my approval.

    Having only known you through your writing, I would expect your class to be open and engaging. Your articles remain inquisitive, encouraging, and instructional, without feeling overly pedantic. As well, from time to time you surprise me with new ideas and examples that garner deeper thought or inspire me to try new things in my writing. Follow the same methods in your class, and you’ll be fine.


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