Rosie Scott’s course Mentoring Manuscripts took place in August. Afterwards, I took the opportunity of asking her a few questions about the process of teaching a retreat like this.
When you are teaching a new group, what are the things you are looking for in your students to help you focus on what they want?
It’s a matter of communication- before every class or course I do, I always go round the class and find out what each person hopes to achieve in their writing from the group. Also at the end I always do a check of what each person has achieved. Sometimes they are quite different, as during the course people discover new ways of writing and/or new goals!
The other way is during the workshopping of their manuscript- the very process means that the writer can talk about what they want to achieve in great detail and specifically, and I can then give very direct suggestions about how to get there.
In the Daku group everyone knew exactly what they wanted, they were very clear and focused.
What do most students find the main stumbling block / the hardest thing to do?
I think for all writers, and my students are no exception, the main stumbling block is staying on track, continuing to write though you’re feeling deeply discouraged and feeling very low in self esteem. It’s regaining inspiration and confidence that can sometimes seem impossible and this is what I want my teaching to provide. This is particularly so with writing a novel which is a huge undertaking and needs so much stamina, self belief and sacrifice of time.
What’s the best aspect of teaching a group?
It’s that wonderful dynamic when we’re all deeply involved in discussing someone’s work, everyone is buzzing with ideas and inspiration and suggestions. There is a great sense of how benevolent and kind people are and also how amazingly astute, everyone is on a high. When a group has a good dynamic and my first group at Daku was like that (and for this workshopping works really well) it means courtesy, honesty, humour, astuteness and lots of commitment.
Do you have any stories of “aha!” moments experienced by students?
Not specifically- but generally speaking, I’m always thrilled when students go away from a session and can’t stop start writing, it’s as if they’ve been released and it’s all pouring out. This happened at Daku. Very exciting. I only wish it was me!
Have you ever had to deal with a truly impossible writer – and what made them impossible?
A few. Arrogance is a bore though you need a certain amount I suppose to succeed as a writer. I don’t want to be sexist here but there’s no doubt men are more self confident than women on the whole and this sometimes borders on arrogance. One university student asked me for a higher mark. I thought about it and said very politely no because I believed the mark was correct. She complained higher up and when that didn’t succeed wrote awful comments in the student survey. . But luckily comments from the other students were so good, hers was in a distinct minority of one. The other thing she did continually was give very dismissive, long, off the wall and unhelpful comments about everyone else’s work. Awful, enough to put you off teaching.
What happens if a group takes a dislike to one of its members?
I think this is where my counselling experience is a great help- someone who is impossible at first and I’ve had a few – can be drawn into the group, given self confidence and encouraged and eventually become less prickly. I think people will give the ‘outsiders ‘the benefit of the doubt- because they are mostly so perceptive they can see the bad behaviour is sometimes about lack of confidence or whatever.
The other thing is writers are not really ‘group’ people anyway so they probably understand ! I have never had any real trouble with that.
Have you ever been tempted to borrow an idea / character from a student?
No I can’t say I have!