Time and space to write

By Becky Swain, Head of Learning and Participation, Arvon

As the school holidays get into full swing, I am writing in praise of the welcome holiday breathing-space for many teachers and students across the land.

And breathe.

Over the last three months, I’ve heard from teachers participating in this research project about how much they value the time to work with writers, not in a traditional sense of writers leading writing workshops or giving readings in school, but co-designing and co-planning a narrative fiction project together with writers to engage students, some of whom struggle with writing.

Teachers involved in the project this term have been nurturing students’ enjoyment of writing, giving them more space and time to write for themselves. Many of the teachers have been writing alongside students in class for the first time. Students have begun to appreciate more and more that writing can be an activity to be enjoyed together, including all the fits and starts and challenges along the way.  They have been learning that all writers at times struggle to find the right words, and that even those tricky moments can occasionally be serious fun. As a community of writers in the classroom, being unafraid to make mistakes has been liberating. Students have begun to appreciate that writing includes moments where you get stuck, and that being with others who also know this all too well can lead to a supportive playground for word-finding and trying out new ideas.

Anthony Wilson wrote last week that whilst some pupils have found it a challenge to articulate exactly how their writing had improved, ‘It had been fun, they said. They were enjoying it, they said.’ Writing for pleasure is such a central part of what Teachers as Writers is about, and it’s seemingly contagious, even for students who previously admitted that they hated writing.

Free writing has been popular with students. Poet Cliff Yates recently shared a writing exercise with us as part of Arvon’s regular Tips and Exercises. You may already know it well, but even if you do, it often generates surprising results.


Free writing is an excellent way of generating ideas, jumpstarting a new piece of work, or overcoming writer’s block. Essentially, it entails writing without knowing where it’s going and not minding how ‘good’ it is. The important thing is to keep writing, without stopping to think.

Free writing is a great warm-up exercise, but it can lead to a remarkably achieved piece of writing in its own right.

Give yourself a prompt to begin – an idea, an object or a phrase taken at random from a book, like these from Moby Dick: ‘Next morning…’; ‘You saw…’ (or he/she/I saw…); ‘It was quite late in the evening when…’

There are variations. If you’re currently writing fiction or a script, write from the point of view of a character; if you’re writing poems, write in lines rather than to the edge of the page.

Write for a few minutes and, if it’s going well, just carry on; if it isn’t, try another prompt, or just carry on anyway because ideas can come when you’re not expecting them.

It’s all about challenging yourself: if you think you’ve finished, for example, write for another five minutes, because it might get even better.

One of the great things about writing is the unpredictability, and free writing taps into this, so that we’re surprised by what we write.

You can become an Arvon Friend to view more writing tips and exercises from Arvon Tutors. For those of you keen to get writing more over the summer months, I also recommend Arvon Writers, a free Tumblr site that includes tips and exercises from Arvon tutors. It’s a home for all those who love writing and is dedicated to writers looking for tools and resources they need to challenge themselves.

Becky Swain
Head of Learning and Participation

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