The Craft of Writing

By Professor Debra Myhill, Director of the Centre for Research in Writing, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, University of Exeter

Writing is a craft, a hefting of ideas, phrases, images into shape; a weaving of words into worlds.  And writers know this.  One of the striking aspects of the creative partnerships that writers forge with teachers on the Arvon Teachers as Writers residentials is a sharing of their craft.  We were privileged to witness rich conversations between teachers and writers, exploring the teachers’ unfolding texts and discussing everything about the craft of writing, from the choice of a word to the narrative perspective taken.  Indeed, as one of our professional writers said, ‘Craft, I suppose is what I’m talking about, the craft of what we do’.

But how much of that craft translates to the classroom, especially in the current testing regime which seems to over-emphasise formulaic ways of writing?  One of our writers explained that through working with teachers he had come to realise that ‘art teachers are passing on a craft, they’re passing on what they can already do, they can draw and paint.  Whereas English teachers, especially in those days, were trained in the art of criticism rather than in writing’.  Certainly, the majority of secondary English teachers still come into teaching via an English Literature route (as I did!) and could be thought of as expert readers, rather than expert writers.  Perhaps there is more space for thinking about the craft of writing in the classroom?

Arvon, the Open University and the University of Exeter are just about to embark on an exciting new research project to do just that!  Building on the Teachers as Writers research, our new project, The Craft of Writing,  will develop a stronger sense of craft knowledge for writing and investigate how that can be used to inform the creative teaching of writing.  Teachers will benefit from two Arvon Teachers as Writers residentials, and professional development days. The project will be underpinned by a Framework of Craft Knowledge co-created with the professional writers. This will make visible what the teachers are learning about writing and it will be used to support teachers in integrating what they learn from the Arvon experience into their teaching of writing.

To find out more about the project, do visit the project web page here:

If your school would like to join the project, please get in touch on

The Craft of Writing is one of five different projects that are part of the Learning About Culture programme launched today, including evaluation through randomised controlled trials that will test their impact on academic attainment, as well as skills and behaviours like self-confidence and creativity. The delivery and evaluation of the Learning About Culture programme is being funded through a partnership between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).

Professor Debra Myhill
Director of the Centre for Research in Writing, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean
University of Exeter

2 thoughts on “The Craft of Writing”

  1. Knowing that teachers are the most experienced writers in a classroom of students, I am so pleased that this project is bringing emphasis to that point. The craft of writing is a skill that only improves with practice much like all art.

  2. I can most certainly appreciate exploration of a previous generation’s definition of writing, thereby acknowledging the changes and innovations that have and are still taking place. Whereas many people may be strong readers and can critically analyze the works of another, it is an entirely different ballgame when we ask those same people to put their thoughts and critiques into words on paper or electronically. In my own experience, I have had several students insist on “just telling” me their answers to a critical thought question rather than generate their own response, because they were confident that they understood and could offer a well-formulated response- jus not with pen and paper.In many disciplines, writing (and furthermore grammar) is simply a “necessary evil.” I especially enjoy the inferred belief that standardized testing has been overemphasized, and it would seem we have unwittingly programmed a generation to simply regurgitate information rather than be creative and build upon the information they have been given and thereby adding something to that which they study from their own thoughts and experience. I believe this project is most excellent in its conception and premise that we as English teachers have a “craft” of our own that we can expand on and even inspire students with. Critiquing the works of another is one thing, but what will make that critique all the more relevant, insightful and impactful is if it comes from someone who is presently practicing. I believe this project will give writers everywhere, especially English teachers, the opportunity to see their writing as more than a means to an end but rather an enjoyable process that produces art in its own right that can be shared with the world. I am most certainly interested in joining this project and sharing with my peers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *