In the midst of the literary workshops organized by the partners of the CELA program, Escuela de Escritores participated as the host for the specialisation course on Creative Writing Didactics, designed to analyse and discuss different methods on teaching the art of writing.
Literary professors of preceding reputation such as Javier Sagarna, Fernando Clemot, Rubén Abella, Daniel Montoya, Aixa de la Cruz and Natalia García shared their experience in charge of creative writing workshops with the CELA participants, emerging literary artists coming from a diverse array of European countries. Teaching techniques were shown and discussed looking to find the most suitable ones for all the different necessities and expectations they may come across the classroom.
For the closing event all attendees were invited for a social-virtual gathering. Typical Spanish recipes were shared along some folk music and a most enthusiast toast to the friendship that unites all CELA participants on the second edition of this European program.
On her first-hand experience as an attendee to this workshop, which lasted for two weeks, Nikki Dekker, a writer and radio maker from the Netherlands, has shared her impressions with us:
I have to admit, at first, I was a bit sceptical. A specialization course via Zoom? Was I going to spend two weeks behind my laptop, to learn about teaching? If there’s anything we’ve learned in the past one and a half years, it’s that education consists of more than a bunch of digital lessons. There’s so much that happens in the classroom: from open discussions and impromptu questions to unspoken tensions and new friendships.
Now, after two weeks of the Specialization Course: Creative Writing, I have to admit my scepticism was premature. Of course I’m still disappointed not to have gone to Madrid to meet everyone there in person, but at the same time, the online classes brightened up a month in which still very little was happening socially. Every afternoon, at four or five, I would seat myself at the table with a soda and a notebook and get to see the familiar faces of my fellow writers again, as well as listen to a whole bunch of other writers talking about their area of expertise.
It’s impossible to summarize all of it here, but one of the things that immediately springs to mind, was the Creativity & Playing class by Natalia García, who talked us through an entire catalogue of word games and exercises to get your creativity going. She was also the one who taught us, a day earlier, about the different kind of writing students we might encounter in our class, and how to cater to their needs and expectations.
People always think that a writing teacher is there to teach people how to write perfectly, Natalia said, But that is not the case at all. The task of the teacher is to ensure that the student who comes in because they love to write, will continue their love of writing. That they continue to write. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. Until you try to bring it into practice, of course.
And practice is what teaching creative writing is all about. That’s partly why Javier insisted that a brilliant story is often unsuitable for class: genius, after all, can’t be taught or emulated. Far better to pick a text that isn’t great, but that works, and functions as a clear example of a certain technique. That way, the student can really practice the skill – and perhaps even feel like they could manage to write a text like that, themselves.
We didn’t just talk about the art of teaching, but delved into the art of writing as well. In her Short Story Workshop, Aixa de la Cruz laid out one of her favourite short story rules, by way of Ricardo Piglia: that a short story always tells two stories: the one that’s being told, and the second one that’s hidden, that doesn’t surface until the very end.
There was a lot of wisdom shared, not only in the classes, but also during the brainstorms on Friday, where we got together with Daniel Montoya to shape our own workshops, and practice teaching on each other. And when the final meeting ended in a Spanish Food & Music bonanza, hosted by the brilliant Silvia, culminating in a pop quiz/DJ night/sharing pictures of your youthful sins bonanza, I think everyone was, at least for a short moment, convinced that Zoom isn’t that awful after all (though I’m hopping on that train to Madrid first chance I get).