Wailey, T. & Sambade, S. (2009)


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Wailey, T. & Sambade, S. (2009)

London College of Communication

University of the Arts London

Constructing a Professional Story

This paper and presentation translates the successful pilot work in Creative Writing at LCC, run successfully for five years as an undergraduate elective, into an abbreviated version to help develop writing skills for undergraduates with the Personal and Professional Development programme (PDP).The focus is that ‘showing not telling’ aids the process of reflection as a reflexive skill as well as providing a context for Employability and professional life.

Historically PDP, (entitled PPD at the College) is characterised by specific levels. Technical and academic at level one, (year one) hermeneutic or interpretative at level two (year two) and critically reflective at level three, (year three). In other words, the development of academic skills, enterprise, careers and embryonic research skills and finally an understanding and application of action research skills both within cognate discipline and ontology of professional life. Each undergraduate level carries ten credits.

  • Level One Academic development within learners subject discipline - Technique

  • Level Two career enhancement, Enterprise - Hermeneutic/ Interpretative

  • Level Three Action Research within learner’s professional technique, treating major projects as both research object and research subject. - Critical

In year two creative writing is the most popular set of undergraduate electives. Given the well attested issues of art/design students’ relationship with writing in general, why is this? This research builds upon other academic work within PDP, illustrating how students not only see or socially construct the world of creative writing but also the relationship of cultural capital to their own specific academic discipline or indeed, life arena. (Bordieu, 1998). Creative writing has much to offer students in the development of both ‘softer’ and ‘harder’ writing skills in the area of professional development as well as facilitating reflection.

‘Softer’ skills enable the exploration of identity, being and location within the world familiar to the process of art/design making. For ‘harder’ skills, creative writing teaches students to write tightly and concisely, often to a very specific format and within constrained limits.The psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (1997), refers to the important relationship between intuition and intellect when describing creative processes. Using ‘creative flow’, he describes an experience of deep immersion in work , ‘flow’ is expressed as being a ‘merging [of] action and awareness’, an autotelic process of “connection”.
Naming, Being and Seeing are the themes that enable students to explore their own professional identity within these creative writing workshops as part of the PDP module. In writing a series of sequential relationships between text and image, these skills contribute to learning within a complex world by building a sense of self whilst writing about “others”, in an ability “to construct a story” (Dawson, 2007) via projective narratives. This thematic approach builds upon our recent work on relating processes of Intertextuality (Deleuze, 2003 ed) in order that individual stories may constitute different possibilities.

Employability and Creative Writing

This mini module helps with projection and assists students towards critical reflection or reflexivity. . Professionalisation is about the process of “becoming” wrote Donald Schon (1983) yet the process is never about what it’s about. Being “here” is never just “here”; it is the distinction between working in a conceptual space and transforming that space. In similar fashion any concept of Employability has to possess a multi-dimensional character if is to work towards enabling students to not only acquire skills required to ‘getting a job’ but also to explore the conceptual spaces of the job “ ‘This is what Lee Harvey calls in his latest survey, “attitudinal skills”. (2008)

A decade ago simplistic characteristics defined the term. According to a study commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) employability was defined as the ability to move into the labour market self-sufficiently so as to realise self potential via sustainable employment. For the individual, employability would depend upon the skills, knowledge and attitude possessed in addition to the manner in which those assets were used and presented to employers. This utilisation of skill both for personal circumstances and labour market environment, (Hillage & Pollard, 1998) left much to be desired.
Harvey et al (1997) noted that one of the main reasons for employing graduates is to obtain bright, intelligent recruits as for many employers, intellect is more important than degree subject knowledge. A survey of graduate vacancies among ‘top’ employers in the UK indicated that 60% of jobs were open to graduates irrespective of the subject of their degrees (CSU, 2002) yet many Academics in this area equate employability only with skills development. The Dearing report (1997) as originator of the PDP programme suggested that it consisted of far more than this. A decade later current approaches have gone beyond the acquisition of employability skills and have moved towards a range of experiences and attributes developed through higher-level learning. Employability is a process of learning not a ‘product’ and as such is part of that multi interpretative paradigm of Higher education. (Wailey 2005)

According to Harvey (2003) employers do not want ‘trained’ recruits instead they are looking for intelligent, rounded people who have a depth of understanding, the ability to apply themselves, take responsibility, be flexible, adaptable and develop their role within the organisation. In other words employers want recruits to be effective in a changing world as they need people who thrive on change. Graduates are much more likely than non-graduates to meet these criteria, which is vitally important in a world of uncertainty where employees are expected to work on a range of tasks simultaneously. (Harvey, 2003)

Surveying the area of creative writing in terms of providing students an opportunity to develop projective narratives within a professional development programme, Thebo (2008) suggests that creative writing students have abilities which are highly prized in the creative industries and, indeed, within any other form of business. The reason for this is that creative writing students are able to work to deadlines, both individually and in collaborative groups. They are able to represent themselves and to give and take criticism constructively in a group situation. They have the capacity to write a wide variety of styles and genres and can tailor their writing for specific readerships. (See appendice A)

These skills developed within PDP and combined with those acquired during the Creative Writing workshops provided the students with what employers expect to find in their graduate recruits. According to Teichler’s UNESCO review (2003), students’ should be able to:

  • contribute to innovation and be creative

  • cope with uncertainties

  • Be interested in and prepared for life-long learning

  • Have acquired social sensitivity and communicative skills

  • work in teams and be flexible

  • take on responsibilities

  • Become entrepreneurial

  • Prepare themselves for the internationalisation of the labour market through an understanding of various cultures’

(Brennan, Williams & Blasko, 2003)

However one recurring thread throughout any study of employability is that much of the complexity of an organisation, of what is asked of a new entrant is due to the complexity of the actual environment, that the evolution of any new employee is open-ended and that emergent properties occur only because the environment is increasingly open-ended. (Boden 1997).PDP has to retain a confident belief in that open agenda and not be funnelled into some functionalist or reductive enclave. Creative Writing workshops within the same PDP programme, in addition to competing flows of information, attempt to provide the students with what employers expect to find in their graduate recruits

The Creative Writing workshops

Text and Image: The slideshow exercises
Originating in much of the work of Text and Image promoted at the college on the Creative Writing Elective programmes and drawing upon the work of Gilles Deleuze and intertextuality (2003 ed)The student were shown a series of slides under the themes of Naming, Being and Seeing. With the first set of slides the students were asked to write up to 4 words per slide. (Naming) Then they were shown the second set of slides and asked to write a sentence per slide. (Being) The students were divided into groups of up to three and were asked to use one person’s words with the other person’s sentences to make a new sentence. The third set of slides were shown to set the mood and the students were asked to divide into groups again and take one person’s sentence and combine it with another person’s sentence in order to create a paragraph of at least four lines long. (Seeing) Here they learnt about how to convert image into meaning and the way text can be manipulated to create new meaning. This provided an experience of working both individually and as part of a team to construct new meaning –even if surreal - as a form of Projected Narrative (Foley, 2007).

The postcard exercises

What followed the word and image sequences were three postcard exercises which allowed the students to face a kaleidoscope of possibilities and choices. These possibilities presented them both with potential threats and opportunities. The exercises required the students to look critically at an empty postcard, one containing a full image and one containing a fractured abstract image with the purpose of looking critically at their own lives by imagining others and more importantly ask of themselves what they were constructing, (Moreland, 2005) the purpose being that if they could project their narratives individually and in groups this would be beneficial to them in professional life.

The first postcard exercise consisted in the students being provided with a blank postcard and asked the following question:
Imagine a person in your class, write about him or her with your own educational and work background, five years into the future, 2015 (responses see appendice 1)

The second postcard exercise consisted of finding out the students’ view of the value of creative writing with respect to employability. The students’ were shown an image of a man sat leaning forward towards his computer with his head in his hands and being asked.

Whatever happened to him?” (Responses see appendice 2)

A third exercise (a fractured image of face and body in the shape of a cross taken from Michael Johnston’s book Problem Solved 2002) students were asked:

How can creative writing get him out of a situation?” (Responses see appendice 3)

The first postcard exercise which was employment related indicated that students were being encouraged to imagine a potential future and reflected within their writing an attitude towards professional life either positive or negative which was both expansive and very generalised. The second postcard exercise regarding the value of creative writing suggested more of the values of the skills that Creative Writing knowledge could provide both at a personal and professional level. The third that the world is complex so why should employment be any different; it encouraged students to recognise the complex parameters as well as the multiple possibilities of “becoming” a professional. This moved the students from ‘softer’ to ‘harder’ skills development but within a series of sequential contexts.

Students’ feedback on the Creative Writing workshop
Student feedback echoed the responses provided by the postcard exercises expressing the value placed on the experience of participating in the Creative Writing workshops. The question asked was brutally simple:
How do you think creative writing can enhance your employment opportunities?”
In response came a tremendously rich set of answers which seemed to suggest an increased awareness of complexity building upon the experiences of the first three. (Responses see appendice 4)

This complexity can be seen in the way that students appear to be aware of the value of creative writing with respect to the multi dimensionality of the labour process but not always beyond and how it might impact upon their own lives, in an ontological way. In trying to determine a link between a career planning profile within PDP and Creative Writing. at this particular conjuncture, we were trying to develop a more reflexive rather than purely reflective attitude with our students.

Psychometric Profiling

Psychometric profiling is normally used within the PDP programme and linked to a specific format such as Career development and Career Path Analysis. In positioning it with Creative writing, we were hoping that it would allow the students to make a series of “connections” out of the “imaginary” career future they wrote about in their postcards. This included the potential of imagining a series of multiple possibilities rather than ones that were purely subject based around cognate discipline.

The Saville and Holdsworth (SHL) quick scan self-assessment questionnaire is designed as a practical aid to career decision-making. It assists individuals to clarify their interests against six vocational areas and links this information to activities, competencies and work types. It also provides practical job seeking hints and advice for those looking for career developments beyond their specific skill. Some students voiced their surprise at the results of the test however the majority felt that it articulated their preferences and could see the links between the test results and the broad area of their career aspirations. Two examples of the feedback from the workshops explored these dual dimensions.

  • It is easy to construct text from image. What you must do now is to see how constructing your own textual energies from a series of images lets you “imagine” better your own story to construct for work and career application planning.

  • Now you have your psychometric profile results, you should place these next to the set of outcomes achieved by your creative writing. In comparing them you will note that these are a number of employability stories you can construct for your own future professional development.

The exercises students’ had completed in Creative Writing were designed to show multiple possibilities. Overall the students were a mix between surprise, disappointment or – in some cases - delighted by the results. However by asking them to reflect on both exercises they could attempt to make sense of the relationship and importantly capture more data for themselves between the processes of technical ability, intuition and the exercise of “softer” and “harder” skills in the different domains of professional life.

Encouraged to make the connection between the complex organisation of work and creative writing we were trying to encourage that synergy Csikszentmihalyi,(1997) refers to in the importance of ‘internalising’ a creative system or subject domain, not only the ingredients necessary for creative work but also the personality traits of the individual, the environment and the conditions of work. Creative flow’, describes an experience of deep immersion in work that will be familiar to anyone with an interest in the process of “becoming” within professional life. What was important for the students to understand was the use of one skill whilst practising another; often the central art of professional development.


The combination of different exercises within the Creative Writing workshops including the SHL Psychometric profile provided the students with different skills and knowledge which echo the patterns of complexity and attributes which employers themselves search for amongst graduates. If the students’ have indicated an awareness of the value of Creative Writing with respect to both employability, professionalism and their own personal life, it was because they had been exposed to the possibility of creatively writing a number of possible “employability” stories. We suggest that Creative Writing as a mini module within the Personal Development Planning Programme assists with this projective narrative and attitudes towards critical reflection or reflexivity. Yet the process is never just about what it’s about. Being “in the space” is never just “one space” as Schon suggested a quarter of a century ago; it is about the process of “becoming”. In terms of projective narratives Boden (2005) makes a similar distinction between those who work in the conceptual space and those who transform the space. She uses the dualism of ‘street artist’ versus ‘Picasso’ to clarify this distinction. Our students may never be purely professional writers but that does not mean they could not equally transform a series of inter linked spaces by writing about them.PDP at level two tries to engage students with these multiple sources and flows of information, creative writing extends this purpose.Borges once said “if you want to write about New York, write about Buenos Aires”. The teaching of frameworks as would be professionals move through an increasingly multi interpretative paradigm is one of exploring this complex terrain.


  • Brennan, J, Williams, R & Blasko, Z (2003) The English Degree & Graduate Careers report series 2 [Internet] www.english.ltsn.ac.uk [accessed 17 November 2008]

  • Boden, M.A. (2004) The creative mind, myths and mechanisms. 2nd ed. London, Routledge

  • Bourdieu P, (1998) Practical Reason, Stamford, Stamford University press

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention ,New York Harper Perrenial

  • Dawson, J. in Earnshaw, S. (2007), The Handbook of Creative Writing, Edinburgh, University Press,

  • Foley,J. (2000) California Rebels, Beats, and Radicals, San Francisco, Lighthouse

  • Deleuze, G. (2003 ed) The Logic of Sensation, London, Continuum Press

  • Harvey, L. (2008) On Employability, [Internet] www.hud.ac.uk/careers/documents/OnEmployability.pdf [accessed 24th November 2008]

  • Hillage J, Pollard E, (1998), Employability: Developing a framework for policy analysis, The Institute for Employment Studies, DfEE
  • London Development Agency (2006), Strategies for creative spaces: lessons learned [Internet] www.web.net/~imagineatoronto/Creative_Cities_Lessons_Learned.pdf [accessed 12th November 2008]

  • Makoto Saito (1988) “Parts of the body: The Cross” image in Johnston, M (2002) Problem Solved, Phaidon Press Limited, London.

  • Moreland, N, (2005) A political and Moral Economy of Employability, Wailey,A.From Habermas to Dearing, ninth Quality in Higher Education International Seminar in collaboration with ESECT and The Independent. Birmingham 27th28th January 2005, [Internet] www.qualityresearchinternational.com/ese/papers/morelandfv.doc [accessed 25th November 2008]

  • Thebo, M (2008) Creative writing and employability, [Internet] www.transitiontradition.com [accessed 18 November 2008] Rheingold L in Preece, J. (2000) Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability, London John Wiley & Sons.

  • SHL, http://www.shl.com/SHL/en-int/Company [accessed 10th February 2009]

Appendice A.

The following 5 is a list of Creative writing skills:

  • Written communication skills (with far the highest value)

  • Documenting ideas and information

  • Learning abilities

  • Working independently

  • Creativity

  • Oral communication skills

  • Tolerance, appreciating different points of view

  • Critical thinking’

(Brennan, Williams & Blasko, 2003)

Appendice 1 Postcard 1.

A Blank Postcard.

Here are some excerpts:

  • The writer is successful

  • Has own business

  • Works as a freelance

  • Working as a fashion editor

  • Work placement during university has paid off

  • Worked in different countries

  • Started at the bottom of a company and worked way up

  • Returning to study MA

  • Loving a carefree life style (alter-egos)

  • Lead programmer

  • Art director

  • Travelling

  • Lead artist

  • Dream career

  • Job in advertising company

  • Have own business

  • Successful

  • Married with kids

  • Teacher

  • Won Euro million

  • Creative designer

  • Achieved 5 year targets

  • Jealous of other person’s successful

  • Very ill

  • Living in the Gobi Desert

  • Split up with partner

  • Gender re-assignment surgery

  • Rich and successful

  • Redundancy

  • Suicidal

  • The journey is more important than the destination

  • Headaches

  • Brazil on the beach

  • Published a book of photographs

  • Very busy

  • Stressed out at work

  • Sorry life has gone downhill

  • Photographer who hypnotise subjects leaving them with lasting brain damage

  • Freelancing

  • Designing photo books

Appendice 2 Postcard 2.

The following are excerpts:

  • Man smuggling stolen artwork

  • Successful

  • Not happy in his job even though successful

  • Could predict the future to create a revolution

  • Didn’t think outside the box

  • One day he will fall apart

  • Mourning a death

  • Nervous breakdown (x2)

  • Had a wake up call to what was truly important to him

  • Just got out of jail

  • The writer is more successful than the arrogant guy in the image

  • Successful

  • Stressed

  • Glimmer of hope

  • Helping the man in the photo

  • Achieve goals

  • Emptiness

  • Strong now

Appendice 3 Postcard 3.

The following are excerpts:

  • Use creative writing to set your goals

  • Creative writing can help you visualize your thoughts

  • Help to think

  • Enables people to express themselves

  • Makes them feel relaxed if stressed

  • Able to reflect on thoughts

  • Help to think differently and disregard negative thoughts

  • Thinking up ways to debate

  • Help to re-evaluate what is important

  • Identifying problems

  • Write about mess he is in

  • Wrote an excuse

  • Wrote solution

  • Use writing to gain confidence

Appendice 4

The following are excerpts: can creative writing enhance your employment opportunities

  • To write a CV

  • Applying for jobs

  • Good to build visual structures with words
  • I am doing photojournalism and I think it’s key to be able to back up your images

  • Describing sound with words so I can use text as a basis for creating a template for my sound work – at least as a theory which I hope to put into practice

  • Help develop communication skills

  • Helped in my script writing as want to write films

  • Creative writing spurs the imagination and allows you to see things differently and makes you more alert to situations.

  • I don’t think anyone will hire someone based on whether they can write well or not, unless, of course, you want to write for a living.

  • Everyone at some point needs to write within their job and being able to do so in an interesting way makes a huge difference

  • Important the ability to quickly and clearly put forward an idea through good description is very sought after

  • Gain internal confidence

  • Enriches your individuality making you more desirable for employment (film and video)

  • Shows your employer you can effectively get a story across to a reader (FdA Journalism)

  • Thinking creatively rather than in a formulaic way of, say news writing, is relative especially to the magazine industry, as it doesn’t pigeon hole your abilities

  • If I was to start up my own business, then I would be able to use my creative writing skills to get whatever message that I had in mind to portray across.

  • Creative writing teaches us how to be more descriptive with our writing

  • It helps us focus on how the reader will adhere and react to our writing

  • By teaching us how to shape our writing in different ways for different purposes will surely prove helpful later in life
  • Image and text work hand in hand in my opinion, so having a creative writing skill will complement and improve your ability to persuade a client without talking to them.

  • I will be able to create better outcomes in my design

  • Transferrable skills

  • Greatly enhance the text which I will write for cover letters and curriculum vitae for a job application

  • “sell” myself to potential employers/clients in the freelance design industry (DMP)

  • The prevalence of creative writing on my curriculum vitae will, hopefully be looked on favourably by potential employers, as a key component in my quest to become a great advertiser

Appendice 5

The following are a few excerpts of the students’ reflection on the psychometric profile:

  • The data result is accurate as I am very organised and enjoy to work on projects

  • I think I need to develop more data based skills to be successful in the future.

  • I am in the process of setting up my own makeup retail business so I agree with the results.

  • I was really surprised that I was more interested in data than ideas.

  • I believe that this is a true reflection of me and my inclination as I have written poetry and prose, and engaged in the performing arts =for a long time. I believe this confirms for me the fact that I should pursue my writing and try to engage more with events and people that can assist me with this.

  • I’m happy about the artistic results but not with the enterprising side.

  • I think this is fairly accurate as I have an interest in music, performing arts and writing articles.

  • So I am artistic?

Tony Wailey, Susana Sambade

London College of Communication, University of the Arts.

T.Wailey@Lcc. Arts. ac.uk.

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