BY MUSHARRAF ALI FAROOQI
SOME of the most invaluable learning experiences in any creative activity are the doubting and reflection we undergo that leads us to review and rework something we have created, in order to make it better. Needless to say, what raises the doubts in the first place, and help us reflect, are our prior exposure and understanding of the field in which our own creative effort is made.
Through this intellectual vacillation and reworking we learn complex processes which become part of our consciousness, and this accumulated knowledge allows us to negotiate our way past similar difficulties in the future. In short, a lot of time needs to be fruitfully wasted, for us to create something of significance and value.
My understanding of creative writing activities in some of our schools leads me to believe that we have not been paying sufficient attention to this important stage in learning.
Furthermore, we tend to think that creative writing can be taught at the expense of good composition. We make the mistake of teaching one through the other, unaware of how it puts children under an unnatural pressure, that does not serve the cause of creativity any more than it does the cause of good writing.
And, most disastrously, sometimes we imagine that creative writing is possible without a prior and extensive exposure to engaged reading.
During my recent visits to schools to read from and discuss my fiction for children, I often hear concerns from educators that children are not reading enough. Increasing literacy among children is genuinely, and rightly, a big concern for everyone. At the same time, I am asked advice by teachers on how to get children to write better. I am often offered creative writing workshops for children, which I always decline, not because I believe that children cannot write, but because I think that children cannot write well creatively without being first grounded in reading skills which would allow them to understand how stories function and are put together.
I also think that a certain space free of unreal deadlines should be provided them in order for them to be creative.
I believe that these two efforts should be done in stages, with a wide-ranging and engaged exposure to reading preceding any activity involving creative writing.
When a child is given a creative writing assignment, he or she struggles against four challenges. The first is imagining the idea for the story. Sometimes these ideas are just ideas in the abstract and not thought through in the form of a narrative. If children start without carefully thinking them through, it is likely they will get stuck at some stage and become frustrated.
That brings us to the second challenge: creating a plot around which to weave the idea. The plots do not grow in a vacuum. They grow from a child’s exposure to narratives, both used in everyday communications and those read in structured narratives in fiction and non-fiction.
Beyond that lies the next challenge: contending with the difficulties of the language in which a child is going to write the story. Without a degree of comfort in using language, it would be impossible to string ideas into a plot and readable narrative. Presiding over all these challenges is the deadline against which a child must struggle to submit the assignment.
The child’s aids in this struggle are his or her imagination, skill with the language, and the knowledge base acquired from reading which unconsciously guides a child’s understanding of how stories are put together. If these skills are not well developed, or are compromised in the process, the exercise in creative writing will not be an enjoyable and fruitful one, the piece of writing thus produced will be of indifferent quality, and the whole experience may put the child off writing altogether.
It could be just my impression but I feel that composition skills learned through language work, and writing exploratory or descriptive passages on familiar subjects, are being edged out by creative writing assignments. Often a child given a creative writing assignment is severely challenged in written narrative skills. With a deadline set for turning out a story, the children’s imagination is forced, and they are subjected to pressures which even professional writers and journalists have difficulty coping with. But worst of all, once they have submitted the assignment, there is no going back to it, to revise, rework and make it perfect. The result of the entire struggle, which began in flawed conditions, may yet have been a learning experience if the results were studied, and its flaws not just pointed out, but remedied through time spent in revising and restructuring them. But that is often not the case. One moves on to the next assignment and when the same difficulties are encountered again, there is no experience of fixing them. There is neither knowledge gained nor skills learned in the process.
From my own limited experience as a writer and editor, I would like to recommend that methods employed to teach creative writing be rethought. Teaching creative writing should begin with creative reading. If we can make reading fun and creative, literacy would improve on its own. With these methods children could be attracted even to texts which may not directly appeal to them because of their content.
-the writer writes fiction for both children and adults
-by arrangement with dawn.com