In this week’s class we took a book for a walk.
We found our way into the walled garden at Tremough, where a glut of apples hung heavy and unharvested in the orchard. I climbed a tree and, as instructed by the journal, dropped the book from a height.
Meanwhile, around me my students were, at first hesitantly, then enthusiastically, rubbing dark earth into the leaves of their journals, pressing foliage between the folios and taking rubbings from abandoned gravestones.
One entrepreneurial student sold me a page from her journal for 20p.
When we teach creative writing, we often praise constraint. As emergent artists copy the grand masters in galleries, so we try our hand at sonnets, memoir and parody from behind our desks.
On being asked to read out their work in class, students often preface their work by saying, ‘I’m not sure I’ve done this right…’ And just as often, I hear my clichéd answer that, ‘there’s isn’t one right way.’
As soon as we stepped outside the classroom, the class began to giggle and chill. The constraint had been doubly dissolved, if only briefly. The pressure to produce had dissipated.
When we settled down afterwards, we discussed taking risks as a writer and writing from the heart. The writers I return to are mistresses of constraint but they also push language to its limits and sing soulfully about familiar but foreign aspects of the human condition.
As tutors, we urge our students to read widely and engage critically. We also want them to take risks as writers. But, like anything else, taking risks is a learnt behaviour. A safe place to start is with an undemanding book that demands to be destroyed.
Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith was published in 2012 by Penguin Books.