Today’s guest post comes from Savannah Cordova, a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.
As a teacher, you have a shot at being that one unforgettable person who deeply motivates a creative writing class, no matter what level they’re at. This is an important job, because finding the confidence to start writing any kind of fiction is tough!
Indeed, a lack of motivation can rapidly feed into self-doubt — and who wants to write when they’re stuck in a funk? But there’s always hope: a great teacher (and if you’re reading this, it’s likely you already are one) can be a guiding light for students seeking direction, spurring them to write with more motivation than ever. Here are five tips to that effect!
1. Treat them like real authors
This doesn’t mean you need to start submitting your students’ work to publishers, but a little bit of validation goes a long way. The most fondly recalled teachers are those who sit down and work through our successes and mistakes — treating every question with great care, no matter how mundane. And suggesting edits, explaining the rationale behind them, and letting students incorporate them in various drafts will achieve something greater than merely improving their work: it will teach them how to improve it themselves.
Another bonus of treating your students like young professionals is that it will get them accustomed to the constant push-and-pull of editing. Whether it’s for a manuscript or a project brief for work, there will surely be times in the future when your students encounter a need for external edits. It’s good to give them a head start on taking constructive criticism!
2. Show them the opportunities that await
In our economy of mass production, many of us feel unseen, like it’s impossible to rise up. This is especially true for those just starting out in their field of choice, and even more so in writing — which can, understandably, discourage students from writing in the first place.
Consider amping up their motivations by sharing success stories of well-known authors who started off writing in class,just like your students. Even hugely popular authors like George Orwell and J.K. Rowling had humble beginnings — it was their perseverance and love of writing that got them through. Knowing that it is possible to become successful even when starting from very little (and especially with authors whose craft has greatly improved over time!) will definitely incentivize your students.
An even better way to inspire your students and educate them about the industry would be to go through the publishing process with them. You could even create an ebook combining the efforts of the whole class, get it professionally edited, invest in a nice cover design, then publish it so they can see their work (sort of) in print! While it’s true that publishing isn’t everything, seeing their writing in a professional context is sure to spark further motivation.
3. Play videos to boost their creativity
Chances are, some of your students will be auditory learners. I personally love hearing things clearly explained (and being able to replay that explanation over and over) whenever I’m learning something new.
Luckily, there are plenty of online videos that can help students stay motivated as writers! For example, many writers create tutorial videos, ranging in topics from literary device usage to speed-writing to actually publishing. Hearing from experts about how to do these things should make your students feel much more capable of pulling them off themselves.
You may also enjoy finding out your students’ favorite genres and then showing them short story readings and/or interviews with authors from that genre — maybe even adaptations that have been done of particularly well-known works! This can be an amazing change of pace for students, especially when combined with writing prompts of the same genre, into which they can channel all that auditory and visual inspiration.
4. Don’t let relevance subtract from creativity
As a teacher, you’ll see lots of advice about keeping writing tasks relevant to students’ lives — capitalizing on the value of having them write on what they think about. So for example, you might ask them to write about their extracurricular activities or their friends; this is an undoubtedly accessible approach, which does work to some extent.
But what about students with seriously expansive imaginations, who dream of fantastical lands or enthralling plots, or who just get sick of writing about their days over and over? (I was one such kid; I found daily journal assignments dreadfully dull and refused to do them.)
These students and situations are exactly why, when students diverge from “relevant” topics or rebel against assignments, you should give them the freedom to go their own way. As long as they’re writing something, that’s a win for you as a teacher! Whether it’s for a short story or even a creative nonfiction essay, allow for a relatively loose interpretation of prompts and the possibility of alternative assignments.
Speaking of which, my last tip is to simply…
5. Encourage them to add to what they like
It gets a bad rap, but fanfiction can really encourage and develop your students’ creative writing. After all, a lot of extremely famous works started as fanfiction themselves. (Paradise Lost was basically Bible fanfiction, and almost all Shakespeare is just theatrical retellings.)
Writing fanfiction is also a great way for students to organically learn how to maintain believability. For example, if they were writing a Hunger Games fic, then it would quickly become clear to them that Sailor Moon-esque magic popping up in the midst of it wouldn’t work. By writing enough about worlds and characters they already love, worldbuilding and the rules that come with it should become second nature.
So if a student wants to write an intriguing story about one of Harry Potter’s side characters, or is dying to fix the ending of Game of Thrones, why stop them? Few things can incur one’s motivation to write more than the urge to add onto (dare I say, even improve) something else we enjoy. And who knows — your students’ fanfiction could be sufficiently revised into publishable books one day.
Finally, make sure you have fun with it yourself! If you’re having a good time teaching, your students will absorb and reflect that same attitude about writing. On that note, I sincerely hope these tips help you build a new generation of writers… and that when their books eventually appear on the shelves, your name will be right there in the acknowledgements.