Saturday, May 28, 2005

Creative Writing Courses Investigated

Adriana Nordin Manan an intern with Malaysiakini called me up a few weeks ago to ask for an interview about the courses I'm teaching. We met for lunch and a chat, and I asked her to come and sit in on a session at Darling Muse. She did - and this is her report about the evening ...

Honing your skills in creative writing

Look around you nowadays - it seems like everybody wants to be a writer. You have all these creative writing classes being introduced. Who knows if they're any good my editor proclaimed to the jittery intern. I was in my first week in the office.

You should go find out more.

So off I went to have a look-see at the different creative writing classes found around town (two up and running and another in the pipeline, with yet another publicised but put on hold due to lack of response by the target audience).

In an art gallery somewhere around Bangsar, Class #1 was conducted by Sharon Bakar, one of the more experienced/well-known creative writing teachers in the area. On the walls were canvas paintings done in a clumsy and vivid manner, the outcome of a recent series of workshops for children. I could see myself buying one, if I had an extra RM1000. Heck, I didn't have enough money to pay for the full six-week course I was sitting in on that night, which was about a third of that.

There were seven women in the group, including the teacher. We began by listing different adjectives and nouns on two separate sheets of paper and later exchanging them among ourselves. Then we had to pen sentences using any adjective-noun combination.

Just write. Don't think at all. Just write whatever comes to mind. It doesn't have to make sense, we were told.

Daffodils paint the periphery.
The jackrabbit exposes its soul.
Cuttlefish color the corals.

We talked about self-censorship and the pesky little voice that tells you your writing is rubbish. We shared our stories. One that stayed with me was a personal recollection of living in a religiously overzealous university campus, herd mentality et al. Not forgetting of course the questions on your personal life which were, well, rude.

People used to always ask what race I belonged to. My stories changed every time and one of them was that my parents ran away from their respective homes to live somewhere far away, usually Siberia, where they met. And you know - they believed it!

Admittedly, it was tough to write without first formulating your thoughts. This is also why I suppose we were asked to write a lot on our own personal experiences, things that are easier to invoke. Nobody would chastise you for what you write about, growing up buck-toothed, for example.

As a slightly insecure person when it comes to writing, I felt very relieved and at ease with the supportive environment we had that evening, where everyone had a kind word to say about what you had scribbled down. So it wasn't so bad, this whole sharing your writing business. My initial nervousness overcome, I spent the next two hours writing, sharing and being delighted at what the others read out.

That night, I drove home resolute on writing a book or screenplay. Maybe, just maybe somebody might want to read what I have to say?.
Adriana also stops in at Ninety Five Percent Sdn Bhd:
... a brand-spanking new company in the Bangsar area, which advertised itself as a provider of specific writing skills training within a context of personal growth.
She concludes about the experience:
... the Dale Carnegie meets story writing course was a bit too hokey for me. Just like the global corporate training enterprise, the company had an approach that employed the ability to write as a means to market oneself better and I feared that this end could diminish the pleasure and fulfillment of writing in itself. ... I could see myself feeling shortchanged if I were coached by a person to write not to bring out the little voice within me, but to bring myself to fit the mold of ideal employee when I start job-hunting. I don't want my writing, something I consider very genuine and honest, to be bundled together with how I can appear more attractive as a job candidate ...
She goes on then interview various luminaries in the field about their thoughts on creative writing, including Raman (who has the usual axe to grind!), Ruhayat, Dhojee, and a couple of academics.

I was particularly interested in what Prof. Hazidi Abdul Hamid from The School of Media and Communications, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia had to say. He apparently is keen on seeing creative writing appear more frequently on students' academic schedule.

'I believe creative writing is a very valuable course to offer and to take even if you do not want to be a writer, what more a budding writer. In this increasingly maddening world these courses should be a must for all university students, but I know this is too much to ask. ... I believe that it should be taken as part of or in addition to normal academic work. Personally, I have found that being able to sit in front of the computer and knock out several pages of creative work helps me to think about my more academic work. If you concentrate too much on something you might lose it entirely but if you allow your mind to take its own course letting the left as well as right brain work, you will be far more productive and happier.
This pretty much echoes my own experience teaching undergraduate courses. And reaffirms my core belief - writing from the imagination, writing from the heart is just plain good for you ...

I am glad I've set up my courses. A few months ago I wasn't sure whether this idea would take off ... but things are going really well for me.

I thank from the bottom of my heart the dear friend who gave me the initial push; those who have had faith in me and supported me along the way (not everyone by any means - some sad surprises there); MPH for giving my course a home; and my course participants for being prepared to take risks and put their words out there.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this up. It made me more sure that I need to attend your next creative writing course in July.


bibliobibuli said...

I'll put you on the list. Nice to see you at the book club meet last night ...

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed myself that evening. Thanks for the invitation to join the club. I've bought Tash Aw's book and have started reading last night. I've also bought The Secret Life of Bees. You're right, there are not that many copies in the bookstore. There were only two in MPH Mid Valley, I took one, so there's only one left!