Last night my wife started a creative writing course.

It reminded me of the time she booked a one-off session for me on ‘Persuasive Writing’.

The first exercise was the best ice-breaker I’ve ever experienced.

I thought I’d share it here in case anyone is looking for new ways to get people into an entirely different headspace for a workshop.

It worked brilliantly.

We were each handed a sheet of paper. On it were two written extracts.

One was from Raymond Chandler.

The other was from Mills & Boon.

We spent some time as a group analysing the texts.

How did they convey their information? What were the key characteristics of the language, the rhythms? What could we infer about the narrator from the way each was written?

And so on.

We then broke into pairs.

We each introduced ourselves to our new partners. Told our life stories. The big stuff, or at least the potted history.

We then had to write a mini-biography of the person we’d just met.

One of us wrote in the style of Raymond Chandler.

The other as Mills & Boon.

We then read out what we’d written to the wider group.

While the subject listened.

And that was how everyone found out who we were.

And how we each found out what we were there to do.

Enough analysis to understand what was needed.

But not so much that we became inhibited.

The perfect balance between a critical mindset and a creative one.

In planning we’re always shifting from one to the other.

And when you’re learning something new – or just trying to improve – it becomes even more important to deploy both.

Creative is doing. Dexterity at the thing itself. Practice. A bit of real-world risk. Look stupid. Get it wrong.


Critical is fine-tuning our analytic faculties. Understanding what we’re trying to do. How it works. The component parts.


I hadn’t thought much about this particular connection between the course and my work until a friend tweeted a link to this piece from Times Higher Education.

It’s about the difference academia sees between ‘English’ and ‘creative writing’.

English is steeped in the tradition of critical thinking. It’s about historical context, biographical background, etc.

Creative Writing is seen as being about making things up. It is looked down on by the people involved in English.

It’s a distinction that’s so well-established that it can only be false.

Or at least unhelpful.

I think the two go together.

Sure, as individuals I imagine we probably favour one or the other.

And our instinct might be to stay in the realm where we know we’re good.

Certainly, each is easier without subjecting ourself to the other.

But we improve at a greater rate in each if we apply what we learn from both.

We write better if we read more.

We read better if we write more.

We need to develop our critical and creative faculties in tandem. They work better that way.

I am yet to use that ice-breaker exercise.

It worked because writing was the reason everyone was there.

A creative workshop for the agency might not be able to draw on the same self-identification from its participants.

But I have a renewed impulse to work out how to apply its principles the next time I run one.

Thanks to Lara for the THE link.