Q: Is creative writing a skill that can be taught?

A: Can you teach someone to be a William Faulkner or a James Joyce? In that sense, you can't. But you can help individuals discover some writing power they didn't know they had or help them improve their writing.

One way is by giving them access to models, such as a story by John Updike, and pointing out places where the characters were especially well motivated or the settings well detailed. I love to teach reading more in terms of creative writing and not reading as a study of literature. I'd rather talk about how the author crafted a particular short story.

Q: In terms of method, you've published two books of writing prompts, "Joan's Junk Shop" and "Moe's Cafe," with Mark Larson. How did you develop them?

A: Writing prompts build up confidence by pushing the writer to fill a page with words. (The first time I used them) I was working with a GED student and trying to get him to write. In our conversations, it emerged that he had never been on a farm. I asked him to imagine spending a weekend on a farm, getting up early one morning and looking in the barn, where in the corner, a cat had a mouse cornered. I asked him a series of questions designed to elicit descriptions of what was happening and his feelings about it. What were the cat's claws like? What were the smells in the barn? What sounds did he hear? I told him to put these observations into a letter to a friend about what it was like to be there.

Q: Do you use writing prompts differently in teaching children and adults?

A: With adults, I employ prompts that tap more into their memories and experiences. With younger kids, I use prompts that ... deal with the imagination.

Q: Speaking of filling a page with words, what do you think of initiatives such as National Novel Writing Month (in which participants are charged with creating a 50,000-word novel in a single month)?

A: I've almost done it several times. I thought I would do it just to try doing it. Gimmicks can be constructive. I don't see anything wrong with it.

Q: What is the future of creative writing?

A: Writing is not going to go away. I think with email and blogging there seems to be a tremendous emphasis on being clever, in being precise, getting to the point and finding the right words. Good writing is still respected. How many jobs in the future are going to require good writers, it's hard to say.

Q: And what is your future?

A: This is really what I'm doing now. The prompts and the teaching style I've adopted is the first step in getting developing writers started, to get them to relax and to have fun writing. It's what I enjoy doing and what keeps me going.

For the past 23 years, Donald Liebenson has written features with an emphasis on culture, community and entertainment. He lives in Highland Park.

"Joan's Junk Shop"

By Robert Boone and Mark Larson, Good Year, 116 pages, $19.95