Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Start of a New Creative Writing Class

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I’m about to teach a new class, “Writing That Resonates,” starting tomorrow at Haliburton School of the Arts and, as happens each time, I pause.

The students in the room will be diverse. Some will be there because a writing course seemed like it might be fun, and some might be there to complete an academic requirement, but most will likely be there because they have an inkling that they might have something to say on the page, and aren’t sure where to begin, or what to do next with a project they have started.

I remember all too well being an adult student, going to my first creative writing class. I was reluctant. How could anyone possibly teach writing?

Yet writing is a skill like any other, and can also become a trade or vocation. Skills develop with practice, and to receive guidance as I practiced was a great help to me.

The writing workshops and classes that I teach are peer groups. We are gathered together in a room for a short time, and in that time we will try to help each other better understand our own work. For me, this is the only way to teach. When we write, we are alone, and eventually we must ask what is this story I have written?

That question, above all, is the focus of a good writing workshop. The workshop is a place to present stories and listen to stories, where a writer hears from the other writers in the room, and what they should hear are observations on the work. An opinion on whether something is good or bad is meaningless subjectivity.

But, to be able to say back to the writer what the story does, what mental/emotional territory it explores, what images are seen, what questions arise, what opportunities may be available to explore, these observations have value to a writer and my hope, starting into a new class, is that my students will find that.

When I go back in time to that very first class I took, more than ten years ago, I remember making a conscious decision that I would put every effort into the class, both the class time and the homework. I would treat it like a job, because I wanted my writing hobby to become my job.

I had already toiled for years in another career, working long hours, often thinking of the stories I wanted to write, that I would write, if somehow I could find time. In taking a course, I made a decision to make time. After all, wasn’t writing – the thing I wanted to do – at least worth the same effort as what I did to pay the bills, if not more?

And I know that, in my class this week, students will have honest aspirations to write good work. My goal will be to meet their aspirations with honour and respect, and help them in any way I can.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Ken Murray

Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in journals, newspapers and magazines in both Canada and the United States. An avid athletic amateur, he likes kiteboarding, skiing, snowboarding, running and cycling. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel.

You can contact Ken throughout the month of July at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Ken Murray’s Author Page