Monday, February 12, 2007

An essay evolves

London Met Writing Mentor Lynn Reynolds has begun her online evolving essay. We can follow her every move as she writes a Psychology Essay. Click here!


Moving house has meant that I have not been blogging. But I have the urge to get going with this again, so watch this space...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I can't resist another quotation from Sartre:

Our critics are Catharians. They don't want to have anything to do with the real world except eat and drink in it, and since it is absolutely necessary to have relations with our fellow-creatures, they have chosen to have them with the defunct. They get excited only about classified matters, closed quarrels, stories whose ends are known. They never bet on uncertain issues, and since history has decided for them, since the objects which terrified or angered the authors they read have disappeared, since bloody disputes seem futile at a distance of two centuries, they can be charmed with balanced periods, and everything happens for them as if all literature were only a vast tautology and as if every new prose-writer had invented a new way of speaking only for the purpose of saying nothing.

As an ex-classicist, this hits home!

What is Writing?

I remember trying to read Sartre's Literature and Existentialism when I was a student - and I tried several times. If I'm honest, I don't think I really understood it, but it was Sartre and he is always cool. I've been skimming through this book once more, and it turns out that he is just interested in the same stuff that this blog is interested in. As he says in the foreword: "What is writing? Why does one write? For whom? The fact is, it seems that nobody has ever asked himself these questions."

Here's Sartre at the end of chapter one ("What is Writing?):

But since, for us, writing is an enterprise; since writers are alive before being dead; since we think that we must try to be as right as we can in our books; and since, even if the centuries show us to be in the wrong, this is no reason to show in advance that we are wrong; since we think that the writer should engage himself completely in his works, and not as an abject passivity by putting forward his vices, his misfortunes, and his weaknesses, but as a resolute will and as a choice, as this total enterprise of living that each one of us is, it is then proper that we take up this problem at its beginning and that we, in our turn, ask ourselves: "Why does one write?"

If he has any interesting answers, I'll let you know!


Hermann Hesse said somewhere that writing a single poem, however bad that poem might be, is infinitely more valuable than reading all of the great poems of the world. I think he is right. An ecstatic Walt Whitman says something similar.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much?
Have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess

the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun,

(there are millions of suns left),
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand,

nor look through the eyes of the dead,
nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either,

nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

To get a sense of poetry making in action, we can now check out a new website called Quick Muse, where we can watch poets at work in real time. It's kind of like Big Brother but with more content and less shouting. Here's what they say about themselves.

QuickMuse is a cutting contest, a linguistic jam session, a series of on-the-fly compositions in which some great poets riff away on a randomly picked subject. It's an experiment, QuickMuse, to see if first thoughts are indeed the best ones. We're not entirely sure about this, but we suspect QuickMuse will bring readers closer to the moment of composition than they have ever been before.

Thanks to Lynn Reynolds for pointing this site out to me. Inspired, by QuickMuse, Lynn is planning to write a Psychology essay online, so that we can follow the evolution of the essay in real time. This promises to be an enormously valuable resource for student writers. I'll talk more about this project when we have more details.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Accidentally on Purpose

Here are a few lines by the great American poet Robert Frost

And yet for all this help of head and brain
How happily instinctive we remain,
Our best guide upward further to the light,
Passionate preference such as love at sight.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Virtues of a Writing Centre Tutor

I have a powerpoint slide entitled "The Virtues of a Writing Centre Tutor" which I show over and over again to our writing mentors. It contains the following bullet points.

•Spontaneity / Reacting to the present situation
•“Only connect”
•Think of the student more than yourself

These are the essential qualities that a writing mentor needs to bring to every tutorial. There is the danger that as the mentor becomes more experienced and more knowledgeable about teaching and writing, he or she may forget these basics. If so, the experience of both the student and the mentor is likely to be diminished. Beginner's mind - again!

Music lessons

Last night, I met a guy who teaches the clarinet. He spoke of his love for teaching in a one-to-one environment. What he said about teaching music resonated with many of my feelings about writing tutorials. In a lot of teaching, we bring an agenda with us: this is today's subject and it's what I'm teaching, like it or not, ready or not. But in a writing tutorial, just as in a music lesson, we meet the student head on. We may have certain things that we want the student to know, but we have to start at the point that the student is at. We have to respond quickly to whatever is happening in the tutorial, reacting to the student's needs or emotions or ideas. To be a successful tutor, we have to be fully alert, and if we are daydreaming the teaching situation will often wake us up. When we are fully awake, time seems to stands still. Several of our writing mentors have spoken of their astonishment to discover that an hour has gone by. They are not thinking about time, because during a good tutorial they have thrown themselves into the tutorial and have ceased to think of themselves at all. When the student is also willing to throw him or herself into the tutorial, then a kind of tutorial magic can arise.

The Americans often use the term "conference" to speak of writing tutorials. The word "conference" is derived from the Latin verb confero, "I bring together", and a conference really is, at its best, a bringing together of student and tutor, a real collaboration (or "working together"). In a world where we spend so much time thinking of ourselves or struggling for ourselves, this can be something quite precious for tutor and student alike.

The tutor and student are not making music together, but they are making writing, which is not so very different. Like music, writing is at its best when it really comes from the centre of the person who is producing it. A good tutor can help the student to become aware of the difference between merely producing words and really writing, between merely producing notes and really making music, really playing. And, to push the analogy further, what is real writing if not a kind of play?

With music lessons, it is obvious that a teacher cannot simply teach music to the student. It is up to the student to learn for himself how to be a musician. The teacher can guide, help and enthuse, but the student has to be willing to make the journey for himself. It is the same with writing. The writing tutor can, where appropriate, offer the student the information she needs to progress - explaining the grammar and structure just as the music teacher explains music theory to the student. However, the best moments during a writing tutorial or a music lesson are not when the teacher is offering information to the student. What really matters - and this is where teaching can become something magical - are those moments during a tutorial when the student experiences for herself what it is like to really make music or to really be a writer. If we experience this for even a few seconds, then we will know that we are in fact able to write or to make music, no matter what we may have been told or what we may have told ourselves to the contrary. Then our attitude to music or writing might change forever. Even if we are still reluctant to admit it, from this point onwards we really are musicians, we really are writers. There is still a long journey ahead of us, a journey that will never end, but now the journey is less arduous, we resist it less and less and the prospect gets bigger all the time.

Now, I am, of course, being idealistic. Not all music lessons are like this and not all writing tutorials are like this. And that is one reason why there are so many bitter and cynical music teachers or writing tutors out there. But music lessons and writing tutorials can be like this and sometimes are like this. But they can only be like this if the tutor and the student allow them to be like this, and for that to happen both need to bring an open mind to the session. Beginner's mind. But I'll talk about that another time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


If students feel beleaguered as they hear their lecturers speak again and again of the evils of plagiarism, here is some Emerson to sustain them.

It has come to be practically a sort of rule in literature, that a man having once shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to steal from the writings of others at discretion. Thought is the property of him who can entertain it and of him who can adequately place it. A certain awkwardness marks the use of borrowed thoughts; but as soon as we have learned what to do with them they become our own.

I suspect that the notion of "intellectual property" would not have overly impressed Emerson. I will talk more about plagiarism later, as this is an area where the Writing Centre can play a valuable role.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Human all too Human

Caution in writing and teaching. Whoever has once begun to write and felt the passion of writing in himself, learns from almost everything he does or experiences only what is communicable for a writer. He no longer thinks of himself but rather of the writer and his public. He wants insight, but not for his own use. Whosever is a teacher is usually incapable of doing anything of his own for his own good. He always thinks of the good of his pupils, and all new knowledge gladdens him only to the extent that he can teach it. Ultimately he regards himself as a thoroughfare of learning, and in general as a tool, so that he has lost seriousness about himself.

That's Nietzsche yet again. He'e obviously on my mind, and the best way of getting him off my mind is to write him down. This would be his advice, after all.


"Most thinkers write badly because they tell us not only their thoughts but also the thinking of the thoughts". Nietzsche

In the Writing Centre, we love to freewrite! Allowing the thoughts to come straight onto the page, turning off the internal critic, just writing without hesitating - how often do we do anything in life with no hesitation? Throwing ourselves into our writing. Writing writing writing. Never stopping. When you are tired or have nothing to say, you just keep going. Going forward. After all, where else is there to go? We go forward and going forward we move on from where we were. Going forward may not take us very far, but it takes us away from where we were. And we force ourselves to keep going. Perhaps 10 minutes, perhaps 15 minutes. When we start and we have nothing to say, it may seem much longer and we may resist and want this to end. Why would we want it to end? What can be so bad about just writing? Why should we not want to write? What else do we think we should be doing? Who are we that we should get so indignant just because we are being forced to write? So indignant just because we are not being allowed to do what we want! But who is the best judge of what we want? Sometimes we want things that we clearly don't want. Will freewriting help us find what we want? Onward onward. Why am I writing in the third person plural? There is safety in the we. That I is a bit too revealing. But this is a blog - you are going to reveal yourself. And if you freewrite like this, you will certainly reveal yourself. Because after a while those initial thoughts that told you that you had nothing to say may disappear. And perhaps other thoughts will take their place - more beautiful thoughts. Thoughts that don't say no - thoughts that say yes. And perhaps then you will really start writing. You won't mind the time then - you won't notice the time. You just want to keep going. Because even if you still are not saying very much, you are now writing as yourself. You know that because things have changed. This is not how you were when you started. Now writing is the most natural thing in the world. Freewriting takes you to the place where you want to be but only if you keep going - only if you don't stop. Only if you don't let those negative thoughts win. Yes, I know this piece of freewriting is not my best - I am tempted to stop. After all, perhaps tomorrow I will have more to say, when I am less tired, when I am more inspired. But keep going keep going forward with the dribbling pen dribbling on forwards dribbling drivel. What was I saying - writing myself writing as myself. Now I'm pausing. Forward forward. Time comes back - how long have I been writing? Is it ten minutes yet? Can I stop? I want to stop. No - keep going. Try to get back to that feeling that you had a few minutes ago. But the feeling is gone and it ain't coming back - not tonight. Tomorrow's another day and tomorrow I can forget about today and get back to where I need to be - to where I just am. Enough. That must have been a good ten minutes, surely?

Integrated writing

At the London Met Writing Centre, we aim to help students become integrated writers. What exactly does that mean? Can you be an integrated writer when you have to write according to academic conventions, when you have to try to sound like a historian or a psychologist, when you are trying to impress lecturers, to give them what they want rather than what you have to give? Isn't this a recipe for producing hopelessly divided writers?

These are issues we want to think about. Here's an email exchange I had in November 2006 with Lynn Reynolds, one of our undergraduate writing mentors. It's the beginning of what I hope will be an on-going conversation on the topic, so please feel free to share your thoughts if this speaks to you in any way. London Met is lucky indeed to have such talented and thoughtful writing mentors working for it!

Hi Pete,

I've just been looking over some of the journal freewrites I made following this week's writing centre tutorials and training. Even though this idea hasn't assumed a very clear conference-ready shape, I really like it. I'm sending it to you on the offchance that it might have broader appeal or spark something else.

The question of culture and writing seems to have loomed large over the past couple of weeks. National cultural conventions cropped up, but I also saw some students concerned about bridging a gap between writing for arts and sciences, so cultural issues were present in a CP Snow sense as well.

A couple of the students I met with had previously studied arts subjects and were branching out into the sciences. Some had already submitted reflective reports and were facing their first 'scientific' essay. One student (an English lit graduate now studying psychology) had written an essay and had shown it to an acquaintance who works in biochemistry to solicit their advice. The end result was a strange beast; fluent, critically-engaged prose (her original creation) was punctuated by bulleted sentences (as advised by the biochemist). The conclusion she showed me was really a re-statement of the preceding argument and didn't address the question. When I discussed this with the student (gently), I found that she had made the assumption that scientific objectivity was synonymous with equivocation. We had a really good discussion about the ways in which she had been accustomed to using evidence to support argument as a lit student, and whether these should change now that she is a social scientist. We both looked at our assumptions.

Mine: when writing essays, there isn't much difference between arts and sciences beyond the amount of mathematical argument - or other specialist terminology - encountered. Actually the whole two cultures concept has been vastly over-stated. I use precisely the same strategy to write essays for both.

Hers: arts and sciences are completely different worlds. In the sciences,
there is no place for the investigator's opinions.

In the end, we decided that an interesting essay in any discipline which is satisfying to create is characterised by critical involvement - and what is that if not the writer's informed opinion? The real purpose is to give the ideas prominence rather than showcase the writer's ego. Some scientists may seek publicity for their ideas and their subject by placing themselves at the forefront (eg Richard Dawkins and Brian May), whereas others are more traditionally low-key (eg George Ellis, Martin Rees). We came to the conclusion that the fame/infamy approach is best suited to those who already have established careers or who wish to write popular science. Then the 'I' can become more noticeable. Conversely, we found that many of the biographers we both admire (even famous ones) place themselves very much in the background.

Therefore, I would argue that scientific writing is life writing. If we focus on the two cultures concept we condemn ourselves to poor communication as scientists and run the risk of bowing to prejudice and received opinion as artists. Whatever our discipline, we must write as ourselves.

Could this rambly idea be developed into a debate or discussion of some kind?


Hi Lynn, Thanks so much for these thoughts. We are so lucky to have you with us on this project. I agree with so much of what you write here, especially when you say that, whatever the discipline, we must write as ourselves. This reminded me of a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut, which I came across in my notebook last night: "we are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane". I may be twisting his meaning a little for my own ends here, but our ideas - for them to really sustain us rather than diminish us - need to come directly from ourselves. And so unless we are writing as ourself we are lost. I used to be a classicist and feel I know all about this!

This has really interesting implications for our project. The CETL "Write Now" is in fact the CETL formerly known as "Scientific Literacy". The Writing Centre was intended to be a "Scientific Literacy lab"! This already had begun to change by the time I was hired, but I was very keen on creating a Writing Centre and avoiding the kind of division you identify - or at any rate creating a place where the tensions could be negotiated and where students could be encouraged to be writers in the fullest sense. But there are still tensions in the project, between the demands for a more disciplinary focus and for a more holistic focus. Like you, I think we will do best if we are confident that there need be no such division. By focusing on the ideas themselves, we force ourself to confront our received notions concerning our beliefs and identity (the stuff of our ego, if you like) and, as you say, this is life writing (especially if you are lucky enough to have a Writing Mentor helping you glimpse this). When we are honest about our ideas, then we are writing as ourselves and, if we are lucky, we might even write ourselves into being. You never know, and if that happens with just one student I will be quite happy.

As for the conference, I will forward your email to Kathy. I don't know if the CETL conference will be the place as the conference is very much being geared towards student success, and this is being interpreted largely in a material sense. Mind you, it would be fun if we could stand out as the lunatic CETL in the corner talking about what we think education should really be about. As far as I am concerned, the mentors can do whatever they wish with the session! Either way, I am sure that there will certainly be a place where we can develop these ideas further, either in print or at a conference. I think it would be wonderful if we could publish these thoughts by one of our Writing Mentors in a journal, as I am sure that these are important issues which go to the heart of what we do in a Writing Centre environment. If you are interested, there is an excellent journal called the "Writing Center Journal" which might well publish an essay of this kind -- it's an online journal and you might find some of the articles in the archive interesting to have a look at. Thanks again and I will send your email to Kathy as I am sure she will be keen on us developing these thoughts as they relate to our project. See you and good luck with the book, Pete

Lynn - I've been thinking more about your email. I think that what you have to say could have real implications for thinking about the teaching of student writing in the UK (and beyond). Here in the UK there has been a move from thinking about student writing as part of "study skills" for remedial students to an approach that looks at writing within the context of disciplinary constraints ("academic literacies"). This academic literacies approach is the dominant approach to thinking about writing at UK universities at the moment. It likes to think about teaching writing in terms of the broader politics and discourse of the university and of the particular discipline. This is all well and good, and it's an improvement on the old deficit models, for sure. But I have never been particularly enthused by it, mainly because I buy into the humane, process approach of the Americans of a generation or so ago (Peter Elbow, Donald Murray etc). A problem here in the UK is that there is no dedicated writing class for all university students as there is in the US -- it is this class (Comp. 101) that is the place where the more holistic, writer-focused writing theories are tried out and contested. Here in the UK students are launched into their academic disciplines from day one and so there is no space for such a non-disciplinary writing class. So we have a writing in the disciplines approach and now the academic literacies emphasis which dominates thinking. So the urgent challenge seems to be how to bridge the gap between disciplinary writing and what you call "life writing". But as you say, if one thinks about it in a certain way, then the gap disappears and we can do both at the same time, especially if we have a Writing Centre and collaborative teaching approaches. In fact we do both better - we have less self-indulgent life writing (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and more invested, more psychologically whole academic writing.

Another potentially important point concerns identity. This is, of course, a big buzzword and everyone talks about the need to create disiplinary identities - and even the academic literacies people talk about challenging disciplinary identites in order to build new ones. But there's no fundamental critique of identity. I'm quite uncomfortable with the notion of academic identities, largely because of my own experience as a classicist. I'm not sure it's a good thing. But your thinking suggests an alternative -- we might actually do the best psychology or classics or history or science or whatever not when we try to write like a psychologist but when we write as ourselves. Discovering who we are is, as in the past, once more the real goal of education and this need not conflict with being a good psychologist (it would be rather weird if it should!). So as I think this stuff over, I am wondering if we might not be able to make a real contribution to thinking about student writing more generally, and this would have implications not only in the UK but also in the US, where these issues are also agonised over, but by many more people. So in short, I think we should keep thinking about these issues of writing and disciplinarity... hope all's well and thanks once more for your thoughts, Pete

Hi Pete,

Thank you very much for your thought-provoking emails. I have been thinking and scribbling around this idea for most of the weekend, so my November novel is slightly behind, too. Mind you, that might be no terrible thing, as my inner writer appears to be Ben Elton. And there was I thinking that I had a duty to knuckle down and provide the world with a great masterpiece. Sigh. Thackeray can rest on his laurels, untroubled by competition from me.

Coming from a classics background you're certainly well placed to foment revolution, especially around the notion of disciplinary identity. In this age of identity politics the need for a critique does seem quite pressing. Speaking as somebody who enjoys classifying things just for fun, I have been interested in this for some time. Cognitive psychology theorises that there are advantages to group identities; they give us a heuristic by which we can identify friend or foe without taxing our cerebrum too sorely (and evolutionary psychology argues that we are hard-wired to classify). But the down side to this is that identities don't always map well to reality. So, an essay examining whether Leonardo da Vinci was typical of either the renaissance or late mediaeval period is as different from a piece of advertising copy as it is from a physiology lab report, even though both may be classified as arts writing. Each piece of writing has its own audience and its own remit to fulfil, and this - in my opinion at least - takes primacy.

I will acknowledge that disciplinary identity has some relevance. But I'll be a bit controversial and suggest that in writing this is mainly (referring back to my point above) to demonstrate to the reader that the writer is 'friend' rather than 'foe'. It's a question of rapport rather than of one format being superior to another. If we give great weighting to our disciplinary identity then we become tempted to write like a psychologist, or write like an architectural historian, rather than as ourselves. And as you have suggested, life writing benefits from shifting attention from pure speculation to evidence, and even a lab report can benefit from a little bit of a storytelling arc. Adhere too rigidly to a disciplinary identity and, I believe, we reject the chance to enrich our writing (and to be more controversial still, I would add our intellectual and social development). We become over-exclusive.

As for a link with writing to succeed (I shudder a little less every time I think about the title but I still think it should be '2' and not 'to'), I am reminded of an experience I had last academic year. Our informal study group (which included Ehsan) decided that we wanted to boost our grades by getting hold of the essay marking criteria for psychology and writing specifically for them. We did this, or at least sincerely tried to, and every one of us got worse marks than before. Oh yes, and the writing was also worse.

But anyway, I am really impressed that Kathy thinks this idea is a goer for the conference. I am also very keen to collaborate with you on some kind of publication. Shall I make an appointment with you to work out a plan?

Yours BenEltonly and with much lazy over-use of brackets,


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Getting rid of my thoughts

Here's Nietzsche in The Gay Science answering the question: "But then why do you write?"

A: I am not one of those who think with a wet quill in hand; much less one of those who abandon themselves to their passions right before the open inkwell, sitting on their chair and staring at the paper. I am annoyed or ashamed by all writing; to me, writing is nature's call - to speak of it even in simile is repugnant to me.
B: But why, then do you write?
A: Well, my friend, I say this in confidence: until now I have found no other means of getting rid of my thoughts.
B: And why do you want to get rid of them?
A: Why do I want to? Do I want to? I have to.
B: Enough! Enough!

And, on a lighter note, here are a couple of those happy little poems at the start of the Gay Science.

Judgements of the Weary
The sun is cursed by all men jaded;
to them the worth of trees is - shaded!

'How do I get to the top of this hill?'
'Climb it, don't think it, and maybe you will.'

Writing With One's Foot
I do not write with hand alone:
My foot does writing of its own.
Firm, free, and bold my feet engage
in running over field and page.

A blog manifesto

I've just discovered a wonderful internet resource: the Ralph Waldo Emerson archive. It contains texts of many of the great man's essays.

I ma
y have no real dea what this blog will be about, but I will be quite happy if it shares even slightly in the spirit of a journal that Emerson edited.

The antidote to all narrowness is the comparison of the record with nature, which at once shames the record and stimulates to new attempts. Whilst we look at this, we wonder how any book has been thought worthy to be preserved. There is somewhat in all life untranslatable into language. He who keeps his eye on that will write better than others, and think less of his writing, and of all writing. Every thought has a certain imprisoning as well as uplifting quality, and, in proportion to its energy on the will, refuses to become an object of intellectual contemplation. Thus what is great usually slips through our fingers, and it seems wonderful how a lifelike word ever comes to be written. If our Journal share the impulses of the time, it cannot now prescribe its own course. It cannot foretell in orderly propositions what it shall attempt. All criticism should be poetic; unpredictable; superseding, as every new thought does, all foregone thoughts, and making a new light on the whole world. Its brow is not wrinkled with circumspection, but serene, cheerful, adoring. It has all things to say, and no less than all the world for its final audience.

What's this all for?

I'm not sure what this blog is about. I suspect most blogs start out that way. There's a danger that it really will become a place where I will just write drivel. But that's OK by me - at least for now. In fact it seems part of the point and attraction of blogging. My guess is that the secret of a good blog is that you write about something that you really care about. If so, there is a chance that even your drivel might speak to someone somewhere who cares equally about what you care about, and it perhaps means that the occasional self-indulgence will be forgiven.

I started this blog as a result of a vague feeling that it was something I needed to do. But it was the enthusiasm of a friend for blogging and its usefulness in education which gave me the incentive to actually get signed up and to get going. In the Writing Centre, we are fond of a quotation from the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus: "if you want to be a writer, write!" Sometimes, you've got to just do it.

The general idea for the blog is to have a place where I can record my thoughts on writing and teaching writing. I also want to give a flavour of what the London Met Writing Centre is about. It's a bit of a wacky place at times (we inhabit a basement, after all), but the people who work there care about what they are doing, and I hope that that will emerge from the entries on these pages. I'll record ideas in progress and who knows what else? And I'll use the blog to keep track of things I come across in reading - passages and texts which speak to me about what writing is. I'm sure I will be quoting others more than is wise from the point of creating a good blog, but, if I am honest, I am writing this very much for myself. As a writing instructor, I should know that that is dangerous and can lead to self-indulgence. But I have no idea if there is anyone out there in cyberspace who will want to read any of these thoughts, and if there is anyone who is interested in them I have no idea who that person will be. So I'll just write for myself for so long as I enjoy it.

Often when people get excited about writing, they get excited about the surface things, especially punctuation and grammar. Sometimes they get VERY excited about such things - even angry or indignant. How strange that is! My colleagues and students will tell you that I can get as excited about commas as anyone. But in this blog, I want to reflect a bit more deeply about the nature of writing, and that will take us beyond the commas and beneath the surface of writing. In particular, we will be lingering a while in that mysterious moment when writing actually happens. But there's no point spoiling all the surprises right now. Not that I have any idea what they will be!

Write Now

I am lucky enough to work for the London Metropolitan University Writing Centre, part of the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Write Now. In my former life, I was a classicist. I too have come to the conclusion that we don't need an old science - we need a living, joyful science! And the students need this too, because any education which drains the life and joy out of them is failing in its task miserably.

Thankfully, there is a wonderfully active and energetic teaching and learning community at London Met and many true educators, who put the needs of the students first and are not afraid to take risks and do things differently. Neverthelss, writing essays remains a task which very many students dread. It is too often seen as a joyless task. The London Met Writing Centre exists not only to help students achieve success in writing. More importantly, we aim to put the joy back into writing. Those who work for the centre (and most of the staff are undergraduate students) know the joy of writing and are keen to share this joy with the students who come to the Writing Centre.

The pen scribbles

My pen scribbles: this is hell!

Have I been damned to have to scribble? -
I dip it boldly in the well
and write broad streams of inky drivel.
See how it flows, so full, so pure!
See how each thing I try succeeds!
The text's not lucid, to be sure -
So what? What I write no one reads.

This is a poem from Nietzshe's Gay Science and seems as good a way as any to start my blog. Nietzsche had been a classicist - a brilliant classicist. He could have had a comfortable life and the respect of his colleagues. Instead, he left a prestigious career and decided to pursue his own truth. "I have left the house of scholars and slammed the door shut behind me", as he says in his Zarathustra. Outside of the libraries, he found fresh air and happiness, and, after recovering from what would probably now be called an earlier than expected mid-life crisis, he left the old science (Altertumswissenschaft) far behind and created a new science whose distinctive quality was its joyfulness (frohliche Wissenschaft). Nietzsche went on to become the nineteenth-century's greatest thinker, psychologist and stylist - a blogger avant la lettre.

Is it really necessary to slam the door shut on the the house of scholars in order to discover a science that is joyful? I thought for a while that this might be the case, but now I am more optimistic. Some of the reasons why will doubtless emerge as I write these entries.