Plant it, nurture it, watch it grow

9th February 2007 at 00:00
You cannot nurture creativity with outcomes and passports to learn, writes children's author Nicola Morgan

are creative writers born or taught? As teachers, parents, literature lovers, how can we nurture their talents, whether innate or not? Since few children will become authors, should you devote precious classroom time to them or will creative brilliance survive regardless?

As to whether authors are born or created, I think they are born and then created. Surely, curricular guidelines help teachers nurture these future creators? Not exactly. The language section of A Curriculum for Excellence focuses on "experiences and outcomes in the language a young person needs in order to engage fully in society and in learning". Literacy.

Don't get me wrong - literacy is a crucial right of every child and the duty of every school. Ability to use the tools of language is essential, whatever one's life-path. But ability to use the tools of language does not produce an Ali Smith or Ian McEwan, just as the ability to use a pipette or a set-square does not produce a James Young Simpson or Robert Adam.

There is something which the new curriculum does not begin to address. You cannot nurture creativity with "outcomes" and "passports to learning", exhortations to diversity and "active international citizenship".

This is no criticism of A Curriculum for Excellence - it's not the tool for this task. What is the right tool? How can we nurture literary brilliance, an ability marked by passion, emotion, depth, originality, and occasionally even genius? What can we do to ensure that Scot-land's incom-parable literary tradition remains strong and that seeds of creativity in today's children are allowed to bloom?

The answer is: very little. Perhaps, nothing. True creative genius finds a way, whatever. Your creative pupil is something like an orchid - which requires much less water than people think. It requires little more than to be left alone and admired.

Although we don't have to do anything, there are things we can do. And some we mustn't. I draw from my own experience of a strange but strangely useful education: despite grammar and punctuation being preached with the fervour of a religion, we were nevertheless given a choice of topics and could write in whatever style or form we wished, so I had the freedom to fly in my writing, while others preferred to keep their feet on safe ground.

I didn't write a story until I was 14, when I was ready, when I wanted to.

Here are my suggestions for allowing young writers to grow. I would not:

* force feed - orchids die from over-feeding;

* expect all children to write love poems on Valentine's Day or ghost stories on Hallowe'en;

* expect potential writers to follow the task exactly as I'd intended;

* favour conformists.

I would:

* alongside curriculum-led tasks, facilitate free writing - from the heart, in the styleform the child chooses (while remembering that others may prefer direction);

* allow dreamers to dream;

* sometimes have rule-free tasks, ignoring errors; it's like getting messy with paint - soul therapy.

* celebrate and inspire originality and difference;

* encourage emotional responses to the act of writing - "How did you feel when you wrote that? Powerful? Emotional? Clever? Frustrated?".

Nurturing creativity is perhaps the easiest thing of all. The seed is robust, and ready-planted, and it thrives on very little except what it takes for itself from its environment. I think we must not stifle writers, not constrict them, direct them only slightly. Provide space and admiration and watch your orchids grow.

Nicola Morgan is chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland

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