Life at the typeface – inspiring others to write

Hemingway described writing as having to “ sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” and for many pupils writing is perceived as a painful exercise. Dave Smith has stumbled into a role that finds him dispelling this perception and making writing ‘cool’ and accessible. 

Dave Smith, standupA new direction

I’ve created a monster. Not a staple-browed, ham-fisted, bolty-necked ‘friend’ you understand. Oh no, happily we’re talking metaphors here. I’ve actually created a job for myself which has completely run me over and is snowballing downhill with my arms and legs protruding from within.

About eight years ago, I innocently offered my services as a visiting writer in schools, thinking children might be interested in hearing from someone who’s been ‘at the typeface’ for a while, earning money from writing funny. Scroll forwards to today and I’ve now visited over 500 schools, both in the UK and abroad. 

A writer

I write for a living. I’ve done so for the last twenty-two years – originally as a stand-up comedian, then for just about every medium there is; GQ, The Sunday Times, Channel 4, BBC Radio 4…I was even a columnist for Mother and Baby for a year! This is one of the things that seems to appeal to pupils – the sheer variety of the job. Many pupils have a picture of a writer as a fusty, dusty, grey-haired bore, hunched over an ancient, cobwebby typewriter, ploughing through the fortieth chapter of a worthy, heavyweight novel. Not me. OK, I hardly go marlin-fishing like Hemingway, or live the louche roué existence of Noel Coward, but I do ride a Triumph and go to the pub sometimes. When I tell pupils that Michael McIntyre routines are as good as they are because of the meticulous writing process, and that The Simpsons and The Office work so brilliantly because of the attention to detail in every script, they realise that the words ‘writing’ and ‘cool’ can appear in the same sentence.

Dave Smith in assemblyWriting workshops in schools

From small beginnings my visits have developed into fully interactive ninety-minute workshops. After a brief ‘greatest hits’ résumé of my writing – ranging from writing rock-solid one-liners to deliver on stage at clubs full of comedy-savvy punters, to more considered columns for a sleepy Saturday morning Radio 4 Home Truths audience, I hope to open my audience’s eyes to the huge lifestyle benefits of writing.

My enthusiasm for my job is genuine and I think it rubs off – pupils see someone (and the boys particularly get to see a man) who writes, and enjoys writing, partly for the kind of lifestyle it has led to – in my case: travel, variety, independence, and fun, and partly for the sheer love of language.

Once it is established that writing is potentially a great job, it is important to get them writing. We discuss techniques to make writing more entertaining and to help with getting over ‘the fear of the blank page’ and we think about writing in one’s own voice – originality is everything. At the end of the session, there is usually a good show of hands from kids who want to read their pieces out aloud, and I explain that these are only the first drafts, and that I spend time endlessly tweaking and honing my work before it’s ‘put to bed’.

Everyone a writer?

I’ve now run workshops at schools from both ends of the spectrum; from unbelievably posh sixth form ‘gals’ at a school which appeared on the horizon like a stately home, to large groups of tough year tens in huge razor-wired, estate-fed comprehensives. Nearly everyone can write.

A teacher told me that one particular disaffected boy wrote more with me than he had all term, so I guess I must be doing something right.

Now, if I could just extricate myself from this comedy snowball, I might actually be able to get some writing done.

Headshot Dave Smith (2)Dave Smith Dave is a professional writer and has been at the type-face for more than twenty years.
Formerly a stand-up comedian, feature writer, columnist and travel journalist, he now shares his wealth of knowledge and experience with young people all over the world. Dave is the father of two girls who show him what funny really is. He lives in a Victorian cottage and sleeps in the cellar; apparently much nicer than it sounds. When not working, Dave likes to cycle up very big hills wearing ridiculous lycra clothing. He also sings and plays guitar and harmonica in a band, The Attention Seekers, who are nearly really good.
Dave can be contacted at www.wordsmith-features.com

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