The Land of Dreams: Confessions of a Creative Writing Tutor

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by Shanta Everington

It was my first day teaching creative writing. I looked across the desks at the crowd of unreadable faces and my palms began to sweat.

Would I live up to their expectations? What would they make of my rather unliterary accent? Would they ask me questions I didn't know the answers to?

I was back at Margate Dreamland circa 1979. Desperate to have a go. Not quite knowing what to expect. Feeling the adrenaline rush as I stepped up to take my turn. But there was no safety bar to keep me in check and no-one sitting next to me holding my hand.

It began.

I began introducing myself and the programme for the day. Talking too fast. Forgetting my lines. Trying to keep smiling. Feeling my stomach lurch as we crept higher and higher, hearing that awful grinding and clunking noise that made me wonder if I was about to career off the tracks and go tumbling through the sky.

I stopped talking. I'd finished my spiel. Issued my instructions for the ice-breaker exercise. I hung there on the precipice, listening to the silence, swinging in the air.

Someone raised their hand. And we were off. Hurtling down down down, eyes squeezed shut, heart hammering, teeth gritted against a silent prayer.


The day passed in a blur. Jumping from ride to ride, feeling braver, floating higher. At the end of the afternoon, students thanked me, said what fun they'd had, how much they had learned. And I wanted to do it all over again.


I look across the desks at the crowd of faces and my palms begin to sweat. The woman at the front, with the pearl earrings and paisley scarf, is smiling at me. The young man at the back, tipping his chair back, juts out his chin.

His eyes ask: Will I live up to her expectations? What will she make of my rather unliterary accent? Will she ask me questions I don't know the answers to?

I smile at her. At him. Telling him, it will be okay. There is bravado during the ice-breaker. Much nervous laughter.

When he reads out his writing, he can barely lift his head, his forehead stuck to the page by an invisible string. He lifts it just high enough that I can see his colour spreading. He reads quietly. Quickly. He writes well. With honesty. Not dressed up in clever language. But pared down to the raw truth.

He looks up and the offerings start to come. Slowly at first. Things people liked. Vivid images, unusual phrases, interesting analogy. I tell him how good his writing is, what potential it has. And then the real gifts. How he can make it even better, by cutting the amount of telling and using more showing.

And he wants to do it all over again.


I currently teach creative writing with The Open University in London. I like being able to help demystify writing techniques and help students improve their writing. The best thing about the job is being able to inspire and motivate others to try things out and take risks with their writing.

I love seeing a student's inhibitions fall away and their confidence soar. You can't beat the feeling you get when a student feels secure enough to stop trying to be 'writerly' and begins to find their own distinctive voice. And you hope in some small way that you were part of that.

The funniest things creative writing students have asked me? Have you done this before? (This was NOT on my first day!) Do you earn a full-time living from writing now? (If only!)

Find out more about creative writing courses at the Open University at

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