Thoughts on Writing and Politics in Kolkata

Yesterday I had the immense pleasure and privilege to teach a creative writing workshop with a group of students here in Kolkata at the British Council’s Teaching Centre. It was an absolute delight to spend a couple of hours working with students who had finished the British Council’s first two creative writing courses in the city, and I was hugely impressed by the students’ seriousness, their intellectual acuity, and their exuberance.

I find it is always good to teach outside of my home country, because it challenges certain assumptions that I have about what writing is or should be. And this was certainly the case yesterday. If there is one thing that stood out for me about the workshop, it was this: these were students many of whom had a very strong sense of what writing can—and perhaps should—do politically. At the beginning of the workshop, we did a short exercise on why writing matters. In response to this exercise, a large number of the students said that they were interested in using writing as a way of tackling questions of social justice, women’s rights, transgender issues, and so on. And what was particularly striking is that in many cases these were the first reasons that the writers in the group gave for writing.
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Amateurs, Professionals and Bullshit Going Forwards

The new academic year has started at De Montfort University, and I’m teaching a course on Professional Writing Skills. It’s good to be back in the swing of teaching, and a pleasure to see my students from last year once again.

This is a course that I love teaching, because of the way that it directly mixes philosophical, technical and practical issues. But the longer I go on, the more I’m a little worried by the notion of a professional writer. In my lecture today, I said that I’d like to teach another course alongside this one called amateur writing skills. It got a muted laugh, but it was not really a joke.

The trouble with many widespread notions of professionalism (what I would call faux-professionalism), is that they can be so very narrow and restrictive. They conjure up drab images of suits, ties, boardrooms smelling of stale coffee, and that awful bureaucratic-speak that is properly categorised as bullshit (or bullshit going forward). In this context, ‘professional’ and ‘unprofessional’ (or ‘amateur’) are often terms that are used to maintain a very restrictive range of behaviours, and to limit what can and cannot be thought about and talked about. None of this seems to encapsulate a state of being towards which anybody, writer or otherwise, should aspire.  Read more

The Pleasure and Difficulty of Writing

There’s a spectacularly stupid quote attributed to Hemingway that seems to be everywhere on the internet these days. It goes like this, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It turns out that Hemingway probably never said this (although he may have said other spectacularly stupid things), although that has not stopped the quote appearing here and there on writing blogs with all the persistence of Japanese knotweed.  Read more

Big Beasts, Little Beasts, and the Value of Creative Writing

In this week’s Times Higher Education, there is an interview with the writer Hanif Kureishi, who has recently been made professor of creative writing at Kingston University. When it comes to creative writing, universities are fond of appointing Big Beasts of literature to professorial posts, in the belief that the presence of some charismatic megafauna might add colour, sparkle and glamour to the grey halls of academia. And for the Big Beasts in question, it is an attractive prospect: after all, however big a beast you are, it is hard to make a living from royalties alone – these days, it’s tough out there on the savannah. Read more

Boredom, Flow and the Eggs of Experience

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been engaged in the perhaps thankless task of trying to persuade my students of the virtues of boredom. This is not simply a way of finding an excuse for my occasional tendency to digress and head off on rambling philosophical excursions. It is instead something that is born out of my conviction that boredom is rather more important, and more central to the processes of learning, thinking and creation, than some might often like to admit. Read more

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