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The Writers' Greenhouse: About me

ABOUT & CONTACT

Megan Kerr teaching on Zoom at The Writers' Greenhouse

I've been writing since I could hold a pen and have written 11 novels, a couple dozen short stories, and hundreds of poems. As a trained teacher, I started The Writers' Greenhouse in 2011 to create courses and workshops that genuinely help people write better and write more.

Over a decade later, I've created 5 multi-week courses and 20 full-day workshops, and taught some 600 students. I teach through process: you learn by using the ideas, doing the activities, and having fun. Wherever you are in your writing, I want to help you write more, better, and joyously.

Contact

megan@thewritersgreenhouse.co.uk
Writers' Greenhouse facebook page /writersgreenhouse
Instagram thewritersgreenhouse
Twitter @WritersGreenHse

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More details

My background
My teaching style

My background

I’ve ghostwritten seven novels and pseudonymously published a novel, novellas, and short stories. Under my own name, I've published fiction in Astrologica, the BFS Journal, New Writing, and Open, and poetry in the BFS Journal, Haiku Quarterly, Sentinel, the Tanka Journal, Elbow Room, Thema, and Wild Words, Words for the Wild, and with Penteract Press. My magical-realist short story, "Rope of Words", won the 2012 BFS Short Story Competition and is now a fine-press book. I've also contributed non-fiction and academic articles to Postmodern Culture, La Négation, and Filament. I'm currently working on a non-magical fantasy series.

Before starting the writing courses, I taught English as a Foreign Language for five years, specialising in advanced and proficiency levels for Cambridge Exams and in materials creation. My courses & workshops draw on this grounding in teaching methodology and practice. I have a Masters in English Literature from the University of Oxford, UK (where I now live) and a First in English Literature from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where I studied, among other things, poetry with Stephen Watson and fiction-writing with JM Coetzee.

My teaching style

My teaching style for all the courses and workshops is based around discussion, activities, and games. These are designed to introduce the various ideas and principles, and allow you to try everything out. For example, I might give you a discussion card with a few questions to talk through in small groups, a handout to lead you through a process of developing an idea, or a group-game with cards as prompts. (Most lessons involve a combination of all of these.) They also often use other hands-on activities, such as quick collages, drawing with felt-tips, coloured post-its for arranging events, and so on.

This style of teaching is often called "process learning" and has valuable benefits. First, it engages your understanding in a richer, more nuanced way. For example, I could just tell you the principle that we generally want a sympathetic main character. In any class, a few sensible people would object and come up with counter-examples - rightly so, because it's only a principle, not a rule. Slightly better, but still not great, I could just tell you the pros and cons of having a sympathetic character. That way I'm giving you more nuanced information, but that's all it is: informtion. It's much more productive if you explore the effects of a sympathetic or unsympathetic main character and come to your own more nuanced understanding. Because you're actively enaged in figuring it out yourself, it's much more memorable - plus we avoid any easy overgeneralisations. What's more, you've already processed the ideas in class: they're not academic notions, sitting outside your writing; they're already tools within your writing process.

This approach is also inherently multilevel. In any class, even if every student had the same amount of writing experience, everyone would have different strengths and gaps. For some, a sense of place is instinctive, while others struggle to write description. It's impossible for a teacher to tell information at the right level for everyone simultaneously. Some will be hearing what they already know, and switch off or feel irritated; others will be missing out on essential basics and feel lost or frustrated. Activity-led teaching means you can use and explore simultaneously: use what you already know, to deepen your understanding with more subtlety, and explore and discover what's new. All the materials are very carefully designed with this in mind, to lead you through a process of discovery while staying open-ended enough that different students can use them at different levels.

As well as these classroom benefits, this also means the process is much more natural: it's much more like what you'd actually do in your own writing. Everyone has different creative processes and we often need to change those up from time to time and from project to project. By emulating actual creative processes in class, we can explore and try out a wide range of different techniques. I keep the creative techniques as various as possible, so that you have a lovely wide repertoire to draw on in future.

The most immediately obvious benefit is obvious - and easy to underestimate: it's fun. Most of us have enough of a Protestant-work-ethic hangover that we're suspicious of fun, or at least think it can't be as good or useful as Hard Work. But fun is harder-working than we think, in several ways. First, imagine a group of people who love football and meet every weekend for a game. At the end of 90 minutes, they're all exhausted, sweaty, and grinning. They've also done a lot of exercise. Now, take the fun out. Analyse all the different exercises they did, the running, jumping, squatting, whatever. Instead of a game, just do 90 minutes of those exercises. With someone yelling and frowning at them. I can guarantee that they won't do as much, as fast - and they're much less likely to turn up next week.

Fun doesn't mean the activity isn't worthwhile; it simply means we're enjoying it. Fun is a massive source of motivation, which is what gets you doing it again, which is how you get good at something. Second, having fun helps us learn better. Our brains prioritise things with "high emotional valence" - things that are emotionally intense. Fun is emotionally intense. So are pain, fear, and distress, of course, which is why we can bolt awake at 2am with the crystal-clear memory of that embarrassing thing we did 18 years ago, but not as good for learning, because your brain mostly says, very sensibly, "Nope, not going there again! Let's pretend that never happened."

Fun also has other neurological benefits - it protects your brain from the effects of stress and it helps you build more connections. Thirdly, fun helps us try new things. All animals (and we're animals) are naturally neophobic, ie scared of new stuff, whether that's a new noise in the jungle or a new face at the window. Freaking out at something new is a survival mechanism. But if we want to learn new things, we have to become neophilic - ie love new stuff. That's where fun comes in. Because it's "just a game", because we're "just having a laugh", New Thing goes from scary to exciting. I've known about the teaching benefits of fun for years, but only recently, working with play expert and primatologist Isabel Behncke Izqueirdo, have I come to understand why it works so well.

So that's why, in the courses and workshops, I don't sit at the head of the table and tell you stuff. We have discussions, try out activities, play games, burst out laughing, scribble with felt-tips, play with post-its, and have fun. It works better that way. And it's more fun.

 

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