Academic Creative Writing in Action An In-Depth Look at How Creative Writing Functions in The University Setting !
Lena Andrews - June 2, 2014â€Š
! ! ! Table of Contents ! Introduction…3! Chapter One…4! Chapter Two…8! Chapter Three…14! Chapter Four…17! Chapter Five…20! Appendix…22!
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Creative Commons License! Academic Creative Writing in Action by Lena Andrews is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.!
Introduction! When incoming freshman think of an academic environment, they usually picture a very formal classroom lead by a harsh-faced professor spitting facts at you from behind his podium. The college classroom is thought of as a rigorous place for learning where mistakes are admonished, and straying from the prescribed way of thinking is deadly to your continued success in the field. Students expect their professors to saddle them with an unbearable work load, only to admonish them with low grades. As a freshman, I was scared to death of being thrust into an environment where creativity is replaced with structure and a need to always achieve perfection. All of this anxiety disappeared when I stepped into my first creative writing class. The scary professors that ruled my imaginary classroom were replaced by caring people with inside out shirts and horn-rimmed glasses that never stayed in place. I was encouraged to take risks, to try new things, and to discard any previous notions of acceptable standards. In the creative writing department was where I found my niche. Since the field of creative writing is not considered entirely academic, it faces some problems with pedagogy and existing within the university system. This book aims to present and answer two key questions; does creative writing belong in the academic setting? And if so, what are some strategies for maximizing the benefit of the major for students? To tackle these two daunting questions, I first needed to look into what those in the profession say about creative writing pedagogy and its place in the academic environment. Although there is a significant debate about its academic relevance, there is a general consensus that it is good for the creative writing community because it gives students time to write and peers to write with. It is also provides a healthy environment to conduct peer-review and workshops in. Since the first chapter gave us the answer that creative writing does belong in the academic world, the following chapters address the question of how to maximize the benefit of the creative writing major for students. In chapter two, I distill how genre theory effects creative writing and that types of genres you will encounter most often in the major. I find that this will be very useful for incoming freshman because it will get them acquainted with the types of writings they will be doing in their classes. It also presents an in-depth look into the elements of an average creative writing syllabi. Although this does not fully answer the question of how, it gives us a deeper insight into the â€˜whatâ€™ of creative writing. In the next chapter, we delve deeper into the nuances of the how with an interview with DU graduate student Sarah Boyer. Since Boyer is both a student and a professor, this was a rare opportunity to see both sides of the coin. I asked about her perspective as a teacher and as a student on current creative writing practices. What I found was a tug-of-war between professors wanting to give students the freedom to take risks and them having to put defining letter grades on the output. I explore this tension further in chapter four and present a viable solution for the DU community. I hope that this book is helpful for incoming freshman to gain some insight into the major. Creative writing is unlike other majors because it requires a certain amount of passion for the trade. A degree in creative writing may not guarantee you a career after college, but it will ensure that your passion for writing is able to blossom into its full potential. I would recommend this book to all those who are looking for an outlet for this passion. Take the risk, enjoy the journey, and thanks for reading!
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Chapter 1:! A Conversation with Literary Sources!
The field of Creative Writing as an academic subject is difficult to define. It embodies a desire for creative output and a willingness to try and fail again and again. Duke University defines the field as “a form of artistic expression, (which) draws on the imagination to convey meaning through the use of imagery, narrative, and drama.1” The key word to recognize here is imagination because this is truly the heart and soul of creative writing. The quote above goes on to state, “this (style of writing) is in contrast to analytic or pragmatic forms of writing.2” Creative writing is a guttural reaction that seeks to put physical manifestations, words, on to intangible feelings and ideas, but does it belong in the university setting? This is the main question my research will address. Unlike many academic majors, the field of Creative Writing does not have its roots in a University setting. Before the 1900’s, creative writing was railed against in Universities across the globe. It was pragmatic, rhetorical writing that ruled the day, while creative writing was cast aside as a dreamers fantasy. However creative writing made it’s way into the academic world in the very late 1800’s. As D.W. Fenza puts it in her article Creative Writing and its Discontents, creative writing was “a reaction against the study of literature as most universities practiced it before 1900.3” The field itself was created as a rebellion against the writing ‘norm’ of the time, as it continues to do today. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is believed to have coined the term ‘creative writing’, describes it as “respites from ‘the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees.4” Here Emerson describes creative writing as a break from those obsessed with searching for meaning. He believed that creative writing should be a personal experience that helped the writer project their innermost self onto the page. My belief, in accordance with both Fanza and Emerson, is that creative writing can be a drastic step away from classical forms of writing. But with this being said, any form of writing can be creative, so long as the writer can find a way to express their creativity. Unfortunately, creativity is difficult, if not impossible, to teach. Because of this, teachers must find ways to promote creative thought processes through readings and assignments. Creative writing pedagogy is a widely debated topic. Fanza describes the pursuit of academic prowess in creative writing as the desire to “become…an accomplished writer who makes significant contributions to contemporary literature.5” But if the main goal is to contribute to the artistic community, then where does the role of academia play in? One of the first academic classes on creative writing was taught by Barrett Wendell at Harvard University in the 1880’s. He thought of his
“Creative Writing and its Discontents”
Fanza, “Creative Writing and its Discontents”
subject as “a revolt against philology.6” Philology, a prominent style of writing at the time, is defined as the desire to make literature a subject of linguistic sciences7. This new class emphasized “practice, aesthetics, personal observation, and creativity rather than theory, history, tradition, and literary conservation.8” A new genre of academic writing was being molded; one that broke from the literary norms of the time. Now poems, short stories, and prose were being considered academically valid. Merit was put on pure creative outflow and a new major was born. But there was still the unanswered question of whether or not creativity can be taught, and furthermore, whether or not creative writing belongs in the academic world. Like Charles H. Webb, an American poet, creative writing professor, and psychotherapist, I believe that talent cannot be taught. There are certain talents that you are born with, that others are not, and you must decide to put them to good use or not. As Webb states “students can be taught to examine their worlds…more closely, to see more clearly, to record observations with more accuracy, and therefore, more originality.9” So perhaps teaching creative writing does not need to be thought of as the teaching of a skill but rather as an assisted development of the self and a more holistic world view. It should be thought of as a way to develop critical thinking skills and a personal perspective on the world, and associating with other professors and authors helps young writers in this development. So in this way, an academic education is very helpful for aspiring young writers, but is it necessary? In a publication of the journal Profession in 1999 David Radavish published an article entitled Creative Writing in the Academy, in which he argues that academic creative writing is a fruitless endeavor. He claims that creative writing classes “are self-indulgent businesses inspired by the counterculture of the 1960’s and the entrepreneurial avarice of the 1980’s.10” He goes on to say that all writing classes have become “vilified and rendered in some respects obsolete.11” Although his arguments are valid, such as writing being a self-indulgent activity, but he fails to recognize that creative writing goes farther than academic success. He speaks only in terms of a tenured professorship or world-wide critical acclaim and turns a blind eye towards the beauty and selfexpression that each bit of creative writing holds for the author and subsequently their readers. D.W. Fanza argues against Radavish, and his spiteful view of the creative writing major, saying, “for writers to duplicate the work and pedagogical methods of scholars or theorists would be self-defeating, and bad for a balanced study of literature.12” The balance she is referring to is the balance of creative expression and rhetorical effectiveness. There must be both structure and agency in order for literature and academic writing to flourish. Charles Webb argues that “every serious writer has to learn the craft somewhere. A good creative writing program can speed up the process, as well as
Fanza, “Creative Writing and its Discontents”
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Fanza, “Creative Writing and its Discontents”
Webb, “Teaching Creative Writing”
Radavich, “Creative Writing in the Academy”
Radavich, “Creative Writing in the Academy”
“Creative Writing and its Discontents”
giving writers time to write, to develop, and to decide if they have found a vocation.13” With this in mind, the academic field of creative writing should be thought of as a pathway of development. While perhaps you are not being “taught” in a direct sense, you are learning valuable lessons from teachers, peers, and yourself. The creative writing major can be thought to embody the mind and the self in an engaged pedagogy. Along with the debate of creative writing pedagogy, there is also an ongoing debate of the professional, expert, writer versus the student, novice, writer. It has long been assumed that a “professional”, in any field, would be the utmost authority on the topic. By going through years of schooling and subsequently working in their field, they are thought to be better versed than any other. But if the goal of the field itself is creative output, then can there really be professionals? If the expectation of success is removed from the principle then the entire idea of one person’s work or input being better than another’s just because of more school becomes obsolete. In 2005, an article was published in the Gifted Child Quarterly Journal by James Kaufman, Claudia Gentile, and John Baer entitled “Do Gifted Student Writers and Creative Writing Experts Rate Creativity the Same Way?” In this case-study, a group of gifted high school creative writers and three groups of experts, including cognitive psychologists, creative writers, and teachers were asked to rate short stories based on their creativity on a scale of 1-6. The results showed a strong correlation between the experts and the novices. This study supports two hypotheses. First, that schooling, although an import part of developing personal aesthetic, has no real effect on the judgement or composition of great creative works. Secondly, it supports the idea that workshopping, at any peer-level, can provide important insight into your work and also help you gain an understanding of the conscientious reader. Workshopping is one of the most influential practices for young writers that comes from the academic world. Before a piece is truly released to the world, the author will usually workshop their piece with friends and peers. The workshop process allows authors to understand how people read their work. The workshop process is unique for each classroom and can take on many forms, but the most popular seems to be taken from a piece published in the Nurse Educator Journal by Friedman William. Entitled, Workshopping, this piece presents a five step approach to the workshop; engagement, commitment, focus, disclosure, and reinforcement. Williams argues that by touching on each of these five steps, the author of the piece will be able to gain more insight into their work. The workshop environment presents a strange juxtaposition not seen in any other academic discipline. Mike Sharples, a Professor of Educational Technology at Open University in London, describes it as a resistance between the solitary act of writing and the engaging immersive world of the workshop. Sharing personal thoughts and experiences can very difficult and showing someone a piece of writing can be like looking into your soul, which is why the workshop environment is a careful place. As a ‘workshopper', you have to make sure that you are giving meaningful criticism that will help the author better understand the effect of their piece. And as an author you have to be willing to hear and take in both the praise and the criticism to further your work. Although the author claims literary possession over their work, once the piece is deemed acceptable for viewing, the interpretation is left up to the reader. The field of creative writing can be looked at from many different angles. The question of perspective changes everything. Writing in the creative writing major is very open and free with little 13
Webb, “Teaching Creative Writing”
constraints placed on you. The few constraints of the english language also become obsolete in this field because, as Sharples puts it, “a writer needs to work within the constraints of grammar, style and topic but creative writing involves the breaking of constraints.14” Creative writing is a guttural response to the world around you that can give you deeper insight into you life. As Webb puts it “no one can write about your world as well as you.15” To conclude, the question of whether or not creative writing belongs in the academic setting is a complicated one. Throughout my research there has been many conflicting views on this topic, but I have come to the conclusion that creative writing can only be furthered by its presence in academia, not hindered. Writers should be able to seek creativity and inspiration from outside of the university setting, and draw their ideas into this setting where it can be discussed academically and critically. It also gives young writers the opportunity and the motivation to keep writing. I believe that creative writing is a valid academic field and would recommend that all young writers take a creative writing class. Even if you, as a student, are not interested in the field of creative writing, it can help you to expand your way of thinking and teach you to take greater risks with your writing.16
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How We Write: Writing as Creative Design
Webb, “Teaching Creative Writing”
Works Cited in Appendix 7
Chapter 2! Genre Investigation: ! A Peek into the Creative Writing Major! As a genre, creative writing is very open to interpretation. Anything can be creative, from poetry to short stories and even non-fiction. The genres within creative writing are always changing, and melding together to form new genres which is one of the most exciting things about the field. In the classroom, your teacher will ask you to think in new ways by presenting you with writings you did not think were possible. Ideas of beauty, form, structure and art will be challenged. The fundamental questions of what is writing, what is authorship, and what is plagiarism will also be brought into question. Many new genres of writing will be assigned to you, and many different types of reading. You will be taught to seek the most meaning in the fewest words, and the horizon of what is possible through writing will expand before your eyes. I hope to expand your knowledge of crucial genres that are essential to the major, including syllabi, some sub-genres of poetry, dissertations, and publication. I will also discuss how finding the right graduate school and publisher is very important and will help you immensely in your professional writing. The main take-away from a major in creative writing is a new outlook and a belief that taking risks and accepting your failures is all a part of the process. A genre is defined as â€œa particular style or category of works of art; especially, a type of literary work characterized by a particular form, style, or purpose.17â€? Genre theory, on the other hand, is an academic field of critically organizing works into categories based on the aforementioned form, style or purpose. Genre theory is a highly debated topic in the arts because it requires you to pin-point what defines a piece of art, in our case writing. After the purpose of the piece has been discerned, it must then be grouped with pieces that have similar defining qualities. These groups are given names and different genres are created. When talking about literature, there are three main genres, poetry, prose, and drama. Each of these has many sub-genres that help make up our understanding of genre theory. Some sub genres include sound poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and historical-drama. Information grouping has long been used to help us organize our thoughts and ideas, genres do this on a large scale. By grouping similar writings it can make research much easier. Databases, sets of data stored electronically, group works together in easy to locate files. By using databases, you can find research using a snowball sample, finding one credible source and it letting it lead you to another. The genre of academic, peer-reviewed writing is the best example of using a database driven snowball sample because academic writers are constantly quoting each others work. The process starts by finding a reliable source, then, using a database, you can either find articles that quote your source or research the sources quoted in your original source. This research technique allows you to start with just one good source and it will lead you to many more. This would be impossible without genre theory and its inherent grouping. Not only does genre theory group together similar sets of writing, it also gives names and identities to types of scholarly works. In the academic world, genres are predefined and works are written to fit these criteria. This can include syllabi, dissertations, and even the oral process of 17
Oxford English Dictionary
workshopping. Most academic writing can be put into three broad categories, classroom produced writing, student produced writing and professional writing.
Classroom Produced Writing! Classroom produced writings are pieces produced by teachers for the explicit purpose of furthering the learning of the subject. These are the least like professional writings, unless you plan on being an English teacher, and include syllabi, assignment sheets, essay prompts, etc. Syllabi are probably the most important and widely used writings of this genre. Syllabi for creative writing tend to all be focused towards creating an environment where the teacher can facilitate a way of thinking rather than teaching a direct skill or talent. The first interesting thing to look at on a creative writing syllabi is the assigned readings18. This will tell you most of what you need to know about the class. Since the professor is trying to further critical and creative thinking skills, the readings will give you a firm idea of the types of genres you will be studying and therefor the skills that the teacher will want to develop. Looking at the two syllabi in appendix 1, we see mostly experimental forms of writing, or writing that strays from literary norms . The reasoning behind this is to show students that taking risks is not only acceptable but encouraged. By broadening the student’s knowledge of experimental writing, their own realm of writing broadens. Throughout primary learning we are taught what writing “should” look like and we learn the “rules” of writing. In a creative writing class, all of these preconceived notions evaporate as the horizon of what is possible opens before you. Along with the assigned readings, most teachers will bring in related hard copies or first editions of beautiful works. After scanning the list of readings, the next important quality of the syllabus to look at is whether the class is structured as a discussion based class or a workshop based class. A discussion based class will focus more on developing a writers perspective through study and deep readings of others. Personal writings will fall to the back burner in this type of class. A workshop based class implies a bigger focus on personal writing and an evaluation of peer writing. Syllabus 1A is an example of a workshop driven class, while syllabus 1B, is a discussion based class. The defining difference is in the amount of writing done for the class. A huge chunk of the syllabi will be devoted to participation. Whether it is a discussion or workshop based class, participation is essential. In syllabi 1A, participation is worth 20% of the overall grade. In syllabi 1B participation/attendance is worth over 40% of the grade, and another 30% is accounted for by participation in workshops, so 70% of the final grade for this class is made up of in class participation. Drawing again from the idea that creative writing classes are meant to develop a way of thinking, participation is the best way to share and develop ideas. Be prepared to say what you think and have that challenged. Workshops are a great way to get the conversation going for students which is why participation and workshops tend to go hand in hand. From syllabi, you can deduce what kind of learning you will be doing and also what kind of writing.
Student Produced Writing! The most important part of any creative writing class, the writing exercises, is usually left off of syllabi completely. This is mostly due to creative writing teachers desire to shape the curriculum 18 Appendix
around the current classes wants and needs. The syllabi has changed throughout the year in every creative writing class I have enrolled in. The creative writing classroom is meant to better you as a person as well as a writer. Because of this the student produced, or assigned, writing can vary greatly from class to class. The most common kinds of student assigned writings are explications, appropriated poetry, sound poetry, and writing with constraints. An explication is a focused essay that digs deeply into the root of a single idea in a poem or story and making the meaning ‘explicitly’ clear. These are common for both discussion and workshop based classes. They can be very helpful for students who have little experience with picking apart a poem and putting it back together to divulge its meaning. Usually fairly short, these essays are focused on one detail of the piece. This could be anything from the meaning of an entire poem, to the meaning of a single line, or as minuscule as the relationship between two words. The wonderful thing about an explication is that it allows you the freedom to find which part of the piece really stands out to you. Explications are great tools for expanding a writers ‘horizon’ of possibility. While explications are structured and highly academic, poetry can be shaped into whatever you like. There are few rules to writing poetry, but it has many sub-genres that are categorized by their intention and process. Appropriated poetry is the reordering, repackaging and redefining of already written words. This genre is very exciting because it confronts you with the question of what is plagiarism. There seems to be a general consensus in the writing community that as long as the intention of the piece is different than the original, it is not plagiarism. Some examples of appropriated poetry would be cutting up a newspaper and using the words and phrases as the body of your new work, or taking a published book and painting the pages until only a few words remain on the page. One of the most famous works of appropriated poetry is a novel entitled A Humument by Tom Philips19. His intention was to create entirely new poetry using only the words that were already written on the page. His process was started when he purchased a Victorian era novel entitled A Human Document, and painted and collaged on each page and the words remaining in the white space is his product. Although his poetry is classified primarily under the genre of appropriated poetry, there are many instances when his poetry also becomes sound poetry. Sound poetry is a sub-genre of poetry who's intention is not focused in meaning, but rather in the way the words sound when spoken or read. There are fewer rules for sound poetry, even, than appropriated poetry. There does not have to be rhyme or reason, as long as the sounds convey the correct feeling. Sound poetry is a dramatic departure from the key elements of writing and a step towards a more musical representation of words. One of the most prominent sound poets of our generation is American poet Lyn Hejinian20. Credited as one of the founders of Language Poetry, Hejinian uses her words in very unexpected in ways that plays off of our expectations of meaning. Her poetry sounds beautiful but looking at each line it is difficult to discern the true meaning. Both appropriated poetry and sound poetry are forms of experimental poetry that have become very popular in creative writing classes. Both of these forms of writing help push a student out of their comfort zone of writing and skew their understanding of form and structure, it also encourages the students to take bigger risks with their own writing.
As part of my interview with Sarah Boyer, she stated that the most important thing for a creative writing professor is to teach their students to take risks. Without risk there can be no art. These forms of writing help the students begin to take risks but in a controlled way. This can make it much less frightening to take further risks with your writing, which is very important to impose on young writers. While appropriated poetry and sound poetry have few rules, writing with constraints is nothing but rules. Luckily, these rules are made up by you and can be followed or discarded as the project progresses. Some examples of writing with constraints are leaving out a specific word through the entire piece or not using a letter throughout. One of the most famous constrained works is a book entitled Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright21. Gadsby is a 50,000 word novel written completely without the letter E. Wrightâ€™s intention was to present himself with a challenge outside of the norm of writing. His process was very difficult because he was trying to write in prose, as if spoken, so he was also constricted by rules of grammar and conjugation. His most difficult challenge while writing this book was how to write in past tense without the use of -ED. Since he wanted to preserve the syntactical integrity of his piece he had to come up with creative alternatives to grammatical rules, such as he did walk instead of he walked. Although the free form and ease of appropriated and sound poetry seem drastically different from writing with constraints, they do the same thing for the students; expanding the ways in which you look at things, teaching you to take any and all risks and redefining what is art and what is beautiful. The elements disused above are common to both discussion and workshop based classes. While discussion classes will be focused on the dissection and interrogation of others works, a workshop based class will be focused on peer-review and personal growth through the workshop experience. Students will be expected to bring in something they have written, either an assignment or a free-write, and give each workshop participant a copy of the piece. The piece will then receive notes, criticism, and advice which can help the author to further their work. The workshop process is very effective at encouraging conversation between students, which in turn helps ideas to flow. I think that the workshop process can be a great thing for understanding how others read your work, because although the author has many intentions when writing a piece, these can become muddled and unclear in the synapse between reader and author. By getting direct feedback from the a fellow writer/reader the author can interpret others reading of the piece and see if it corresponds with the original intention. Most workshops are conducted in a two part process. The studentâ€™s receive a personal copy of the work and then they are given time to read, reread, interpret, and dissect. Notes on the piece itself are encouraged and usually prove most helpful. Then a letter is drafted to the author, putting the pieces of their notes together and proving a final insight. Then the group will meet together and discuss their ideas aloud. Finally, the author takes the notes, letters, and discussion to heart and redrafts the piece accordingly. In a classroom setting, especially at the introductory level, workshops can be very ineffective. Students are either unwilling to share, or are afraid of emotional backlash from the author. The most important feedback you can give in a workshop is to discuss how the piece made you feel, what your personal reaction is, and what parts really stood out to you. This way you can provide critically relevant advice without attacking the piece or the author. Although peer-review is highly respected in academia, the field of creative writing does not require that published works be peer21 Appendix
reviewed. The workshop is another tool to further the minds of young writers, it can also be a place where new sub-genres are born. Although workshops are not considered a written genre, I still consider them to be a genre in their own right because of the informal rules and expectations that the situation puts on the students. There is a protocol in workshopping that can only be learned by doing, it is a rhetorical situation whose writings and discussions have characteristic traits that are only applicable to that situation. So in this way, workshops are a rhetorical genre, rather than a written one.
Professional Produced Writing! A professional is defined as a person ‘engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.’ In the field of creative writing, the term professional is a bit of a hot spot. Many writers prefer to keep thinking about writing as a passion rather than a profession. The best way to continue your passion for writing is to attend a graduate school and work towards either a Master’s of Fine Art or a doctoral. While attending graduate school, you will be required to write a dissertation on something relevant in your field. A dissertation, or thesis, is a document that presents the authors findings over their four years in graduate school. For most of graduate school, your research is funded and presided over by a committee. At the University of Denver, DU, graduate students are completely funded through their first three years. In the fourth year, students must petition and compete for continued funding of their dissertation. Unlike many schools, DU offers creative writing students a unique opportunity to write a creative dissertation. This means that it does not have to be in academic form. It can be multimedia, multidimensional, and most importantly, an outlet for your passion. Later in my interview with Sarah Boyer, we talked at length about her untitled dissertation. I wondered aloud what the difference for her was between something she is writing for personal enjoyment versus something that is done because you have to. She replied that her dissertation started as a personal project which she expanded to meet the expectations of a dissertation. A creative dissertation provides a lot more wiggle-room for students to find what they are passionate about and to explore it. This, again, furthers the broadening of their writing ‘horizons’. Other than dissertations, the one of the biggest concerns for both graduate students and professionals is to get published. While funding is provided for DU grad school students for the first three years, funding for the fourth year is based on a criteria that compares time spent teaching and going to school versus publishing. The more published a writer is, the more likely they will receive funding for all four years. It is a quantifiable measurement of success for universities, but the process is not always a smooth one. All publishers employ editors whose job it is to go through each accepted work and change anything and everything they deem necessary. The final say lies with the author, but a refusal could result in the book being dropped by the publisher. There must be a good relationship between the author and the publisher so that a consensus can be reached and the product you want can be released to the world. The best way to search for a publisher for your work, is to look into what kinds of books the publisher is known for. As a young unknown poet looking to get published, the best place to start would be to look for a printing press that specializes in smaller publishings. Find the publishers or presses that print works similar to yours. In the field of creative writing there are few journals that continually publish new creative writing material, so instead, we look to the printing presses and the publishers to find our content.
The field of creative writing is centered around an idea that the classroom is not meant to teach you how to write or any other direct skill, instead it is focused on the development of its students, on widening how and what they think about. There is no one on this planet that knows your life or your world better than you, so only you can put the correct words to describe it. The field of creative writing seeks to care for the minds of each young writer, to broaden their vocabulary, to widen the scope of the possible, and to create something beautiful. Understanding genre theory can be a great way to help you get started on the kinds of works that interest you. For example, if you are very interested in sound poetry, the best way to get started is to read a lot of sound poetry. But this technique of learning from others would not be possible without genre theory and its grouping techniques. Because of genres, you can superimpose rules or reduce them to rubble. Grammar becomes an option, spelling up to interpretation, a wild creative mess is left in the wake. Writing for the field is totally up to you. As a student your work is assigned as tools to help you along, once you leave the classroom, there are no limits to the things you can write. The field is open and inviting to all who dare to take the risk.
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Chapter 3:! Interview with a Poet! The creative writing classroom is the tributary that feeds the creativity of young poets, authors, playwrights. Here, professors are guides on the path to new ways of thinking. In the creative writing classroom, there are few new skills to be learned, no vocabulary to memorize or no rules to follow. Students are encouraged to take risks, try new things, and to discard all former norms. To see just how invested creative writing professors are in this idea, I brought this up during my interview with Sarah Boyer. She is currently pursuing a MFA in creative writing as well her teaching responsibilities. We talked about the process of creative writing, from encouraging debates to writing to editing and finally to evaluation by the teacher. We also spent a great deal of time talking about graduate school and the dissertation process. The interview wrapped up with a discussion about the importance of loving the process of writing. It was interesting to talk to a professor who is also a student because she was able to provide insight into both sides of the relationship. Since Sarah Boyer is also the teacher for an Art of Poetry class I am currently enrolled in, I have the pleasure of interacting with her both inside and outside of the classroom. One of the first questions Boyer asks the class each afternoon is “what did you think of the reading?” As a class we are encouraged to discuss, analyze, praise, and criticize the assigned reading. Once interpretations are flying around the room, she tries to push our readings deeper by asking questions such as, “why did it make you feel that way?” and “what did this line do for you?” When a student touches on a topic or idea that peaks her interest she yells out “say more!” When new ideas are encouraged and opposing ideas between students are discussed, it results in a richer more meaningful reading experience. Different interpretation of the same piece are a wonderful way to examine new pathways of thinking more deeply and clearly. One student can be dead set on one reading of a poem, but when another student can present an idea and give adequate justification for this, the first student now has two perspectives to look from and gains knowledge from having their ideas challenged. This idea of expanding perspectives is the ultimate goal of any creative writing classroom. After discussing her ideas on developing students perspectives, I wanted to know what kinds of writings she assigned in order to further these ideas. I asked what techniques she found most useful for expanding students horizons, she thoughtfully replied “I think it’s really useful to make students write autobiographically…especially in an entry level composition class, I think making students write autobiographically is the most useful way to have them construct an argument because what do you know better than your own life.” This supports the argument that creative writing professors are not trying to teach the students something new but rather give them the tools they need to further their writing. It also promotes the idea of a personal voice. For Boyer, the main take-away she hopes students will receive from these autobiographical assignments is a sense of possibility. She thinks that “anything can be structured in five million different ways and that there is not a particular right way, which I think we have all been taught. What I want to teach is that there is a multitude of possibilities in writing rather than a single correct answer.” For Boyer, the most important things her students can learn is to take risks with your writing and to push yourself to see different solutions to the same problem.
Once I had a firm idea of the types of writing Boyer assigned, I wanted to discuss the editing process a bit. Boyer stated that a piece is never finished. The ideas you want to express can always be made clearer. Furthermore, the piece you set out to write may look nothing like the final piece. You must be willing to change your writing to match your mind and this is a major part of taking risks. When asked what the most valuable thing a creative writing student must learn when taking on the major, Boyer responded “its all about taking risks and making mistakes…You should never have an idea of what you want the end result to look like. It should only be about method and trial-anderror…” It the process of writing not the end result that the creative writing major is concerned with, and editing is a huge part of the process. Now that I had a firm idea of her expectations for the process and understood her role as as a writer, I wanted to better understand her role as a teacher. I started off by asking her what she values most when evaluating students work. She replied, “I look for risking taking…and comprehension of the assignment.” She goes on to say that in creative writing “there is defiantly a scale for effort that is often separate from the visual outcome.” Professors are looking for thoughtful writing that embodies the passion the writer has for the project, and also an understanding of the rhetorical situation presented by the assignment. The wonderful thing about creative writing is that teachers are not looking for a specific product or process, they simply want you to follow your intuition. Boyer encourages risk-taking by giving students the opportunity to challenge assignments and books. By continually asking questions and questioning the world around us, students expand the boundaries of what is possible and therefore what is ‘writable’. Fresh out of college, brimming with all of this new knowledge, students often wonder where to go next. One of the best places to further your knowledge and understanding of creative writing is graduate school. Once in grad school, four more years of advanced schooling culminates in the student’s final dissertation. As previously discussed, the University of Denver is one of only six schools in the country that allows graduate students to do a creative dissertation22. For other fields a dissertation is an in-depth study of a particular element in that field. It usually requires a lot of research from a multitude of sources to shape your thesis. A creative writing dissertation, on the other hand, has the ability to be anything you would like. During my interview with Boyer we talked at length about her dissertation project because it combines creative elements with the traditional research based thesis. She describes it as “a collection of poems with a critical preface.” Her project is multimedia and includes many first hand sources. Although a dissertation is thought of as a wholly professional genre, they do not necessarily have to be. In Boyer’s case, it started as a personal passion that transformed into the major piece that it is today. In creative writing, the line between novice and professional becomes very blurred because there is no way to measure passion. If you lose sight of your passion for writing, then there is no reason to continue in the field. Creative writing is about the process, not the product and you must love and understand your process in order to produce a product that you can be proud of. Boyer states that one of the biggest problems facing academic creative writing today is that “people really believe that there is a right way to do things.” She went on to say it “happens through the school system and I think thats really unfortunate.” Writing is about a personal process not the right one or the only one.
Full list in appendix 5
When asked how writing affects her professional identity, she responded, “it is my professional identity.” Writing is not just a part of the creative writers job, it is their job. To conclude, creative writing is a genre that embodies risks, new possibilities, and an infinite amount of different perspectives. Trial-and-error and mistakes are all a part of the process and are necessary if you are to arrive at something that represents your passion accurately. You cannot be concerned with the product when the process has yet to begin. The beauty of creative writing lies in the breaking of rules, the abandonment of grammar, and wild creative energy of the writer with pen in hand. Fall in love with your word choices and the relationships between them, linger in the pauses of your lines and the breaks in your stanzas, have passion for your work, and most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you that your process or your product isn’t good enough.
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Chapter 4:! A Letter for Your Thoughts ! Throughout our academic endeavors there are few things that remain the same. The classrooms, the teachers, the assignments, and the people change every year, but there is one constant factor that shapes our entire experience, letter grades. They are assigned to everything in academia, from free-write poetry to grad school thesis papers. A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s have danced across every piece of paper handed back to students for decades. Grades are a way for the academic world to quantify your knowledge, or way of thinking, and subsequently rank you. They are based on a scale of perfection that is arbitrarily set by the heads of schools and the teachers. But grades are not always conducive to true learning, and in the field of creative writing, they can be very harmful. Creative writing is meant to broaden your way of thinking and help you to develop your own creative voice, not to teach you a skill or to memorize a list of facts. Since the major is based on an individual need for creative outflow, putting letter grades on a students personal thoughts is like putting up prison walls around their creative horizons. Luckily, many creative writing professors recognize this major issue and do their best to correct it while operating within the constraints of their academic supervisors. The University of Denver, like most institutions in the United States, works on an A through F letter graded scale that is used school wide. From chemistry to the English department to the music school, the same letter grades and methods for assigning them are used throughout the departments. But can we really judge an english degree, specifically a creative writing major, in the same terms as a science degree? In order to give students the best possible learning experience we must treat each major as a separate undertaking. While letter grades may still be the best choice for some majors, it presents too many problems for creative writing to be left in place, which is why I am proposing a shift away from the traditional structure. For a creative writing student, the main focus of their academic careers should be the pursuit of style and a method for personal expression. Teachers promote this by encouraging students to take as many risks as possible while writing and not to adhere to the ‘right’ form or a ‘correct’ way of thinking. Grades, then, can be a creative writing professors worst nightmare. Grades put students directly back into the mind frame of seeking perfection and striving to attain the all mighty A. In order to deal with this issue, we must move away from letter grades in creative fields. There is no one who should be able judge your creative output so harshly that they are given the power to diminish your words and expressions to a single letter. Creative writing classrooms should be a place where creativity flourishes and new ideas are allowed to grow. If we remove the process of letter grades from the equation, we open up new possibilities for teaching and create a place where students are comfortable taking risks with their writing without being admonished for it. If the idea of perfection is gone, an age of pure creation can begin. Although I am suggesting an abandonment of the former regime, I am not, however, suggesting that students in the creative writing major should not have their work reviewed and critiqued. In place of the letter grade system, I am proposing that a review board be set up to evaluate a portfolio of work for each student upon graduation. This review board would consist of the student’s past teachers, perhaps an advisor, and a collection of impartial board members. The board will review each individuals entire portfolio, as well as interviewing the student and teachers to provide a holistic view
of the student and their accomplishments. The student should not feel as if they are being judged or evaluated based on a set criteria, instead the student should feel like a partner in the process. The student should be given the opportunity to defend any decision they made and to provide background and clarity into their work. They should not feel that they are being put on a scale of perfection, but rather, they are being reviewed to see how they have developed in their years attending the university. The final decision will be based on the students personal progress and personal achievement, it should not be a comparison of students. If we can encourage students to pursue knowledge instead of the security of a letter, we are preparing them for a better life. When proposing a more holistic view of a student rather than the narrowing gaze of a letter grade, many universities would say that this is not a feasible idea due to the changes that need to be made to the program. One of the main arguments against my proposal is that without letter grades, universities would have no way to rank students. If there are no letter grades, there would be no way for universities to claim that they are the best, or better than another. On any universities website, or in their brochure, you will find an average GPA of incoming and attending students. These numbers mean nothing to the student, but are a way for their parents and the universities to gloat over their achievements. Grades are a glorified ranking system that puts students at a disadvantage. If the student receives good grades, it is something for parents to boast about, but if the grades are below expectations, for any reason, the student is termed a failure. It is not healthy for a students worth to be connected to a superficial classification. Along with the grading system putting strain on the mental health of students, it also does not facilitate beneficial learning. If a more holistic view of learning was adopted then students leaving school would feel more prepared for the world ahead Another argument against my proposal is that students interested in grad school have a much harder time getting accepted when they attended a university that did not assign letter grades. This goes back to the original argument about ranking. Getting accepted to grad school is very competitive, making only those with the best grades candidates. I propose that even graduate schools have review boards that holistically review applicants. If a student is accepted to graduate school off of a letter and a short admission essay, you are not understanding the full depth of their work. Graduate school is geared towards a higher degree of learning and preparing students for the professional world. The professional world of creative writing is a continuance of the creative process that is adopted throughout the students life, so a graduate school should be more interested in an applicants portfolio of work rather than a letter grade assigned by an arbitrary teacher. And so, even in graduate school setting, a shift from traditional grades to a holistic review system can be extremely beneficial to the students development. Although it may seem that this shift would make major upheavals in the academic world, there are many schools that have already adopted this view. Reed college, in Portland, Oregon, and Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, NY, are among23 the leading schools in this experimental method. What sets these schools apart from the others that have adopted this method is that these institutions keep a working letter grade on file for external purposes, such as graduate school. This combats one of the main problems people have with this proposal and strengthens the system. The students that attend these schools have shown great success in both the academic and the professional world. At the University of Denver, the creative writing staff has attempted to take matters into their own hands. 23
Full list of gradeless schools in appendix 6
One creative writing professor Sarah Boyer stated, “I have to assign you grades. I don’t want to, but the university requires it.” So to get around this, she will not assign any letter grades on assignments and bases her grades off of a year long interaction with her students. This motivates students to formulate new ideas and to be present in the classroom because they are not arbitrarily graded from one event. Although this is not a perfect situation, it helps immensely to make students feel less pressured by the looming letter at the top of the page. Although this system is better, I still would like to see a greater push in creative writing towards this holistic learning environment. Since creative writing is a concentration within the english department, this change would have to be implemented throughout the department. The best way to start this process would be to first move to a pass/fail system, where the students will not be notified of their grades unless they begin to falter in their classes, at which time the student will be notified and have a meeting with their advisor. This should be a warning for the student and a reminder to get back on track with their learning. This lets the student be in control of their learning. It also takes away the “all-or-nothing” situation presented by schools. An “all-or-nothing” situation would be where one test is worth a massive percentage of the final grade. You are expected to be able to recall all information from the course at the drop of a hat. But stress, illness, lack of sleep, and many other extraneous circumstances can interfere with the students ability to perform on a given occasion. Removing this situation from the school system promotes a higher worth for learning and takes mental stress off of the student. Although much of a students life is governed by a desire for academic success, this strive can muddle the journey. A students focus should be the pursuit of knowledge and personal development. In the creative writing major, letter grades should be abolished and replaced by a holistic review process of the student as an author, with creative licentiateship over their work. The creative writing major needs to move further towards a camaraderie between student and professor so a creative dialogue can be opened. So as students, I implore you talk to your teachers, express your desire for a peer based class, and most importantly, do not define yourself by the narrowing lines of the letter at the top of the page.
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Chapter 5: ! One Door Closes as Three Others Open! Throughout this book I have discussed how the field of creative writing fits in with the rest of academia. It is a very difficult subject to teach because there is no direct skill being taught. Creativity and the desire to write is something you are born with and creative writing professors the world over are working to find a balance between the strict rules of the universities and encouraging students to take risks. Encouraging pure creative outflow is difficult for many teachers because they push students to stray from the ‘correct’ way to write but are still forced to assign grades at the end of the term. Creative writing students must be confident in their writing and strive to find a personal style. In the first chapter of this book, I looked at existing research on how others view creative writing. It was interesting because even here I could feel a tension between this field and others in academia. There were reports of creative writing being a ‘self-indulgent24’ activity that had no place in the university. Others stated that it was necessary to maintain a balance between creative and more structured forms of writing. When I first began drafting this book, I was solely under the impression that creative writing did not belong in this setting. I believed that putting a field that was based solely on the individuality of the writer into a situation where the writer and their thoughts were scrutinized everyday was not conducive to developing a personal style. But through my research, the problem became less black and white, and instead two questions emerged. First, does creative writing belong in academia? And if it does, what can be done to maximize its effectiveness for students? I came to the conclusion that creative writing does belong in the university setting, because although creative writing revolves around this passion for writing, students need time, guidance, and encouragement to reach their full potential. In the first chapter, I discuss how talent cannot be taught nor learned, but it does need to be nurtured, and the university setting provides this. While my first chapter is geared towards answering the question of it it belongs, the subsequent chapters explore the effectiveness of the program, and finally, how to fix a problem within the major. In chapter two, I looked into some of the genres taught within the program and how they work to develop students. Chapter three brought to light the negative effects of grades on creative writing students. It also shed light on the idea of “risk taking” which is essential to creative writing. It was in this chapter that I found the problem of grades and in the following chapter I presented the solution of a ‘gradeless' system within the English Department. It was after addressing this problem that I began to formulate ideas about what could be done to maximize the benefit to students from being a part of this program. The final conclusion that I came to was that if creative writing is to survive in the academic world, it must be treated as an art, not a science. What I mean is that creative writing cannot be judged on an A through F system because this gives the illusion that there is a cookie-cutter standard for creative writing. There needs to be more focus on student development and personal progress, and less on conforming to strict archaic standards of academia. Creative writing pedagogy is a double edged sword for professors because they encourage their students to take risks, but sometimes risks don’t pay off when the grade at the end does not match the effort and passion the student put into it. In turn this 24 See Chapter 1, pg. 3
can cause the students to be reluctant to take the necessary risks needed to continue in this field. We must push for a more holistic view of the authors and the work they put out. In turn this will lead to more confident students who are willing to push the limits of what has been done before. Throughout the book I have used the statement “creative writing is…” but I now realize that creative writing cannot be defined in these terms. What creative writing is, is entirely open to the interpretation of the writer and although I have discussed my interpretation, I hope this only provides a way into thinking about the major. I want to encourage new students to strive for something new and different. If you have a passion, follow it. If you have an idea, run with it. And most importantly, if you want to take a risk, push it as hard and as far as you can, because you never know what you will end up with if you don’t try it.
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Art of Poetry 1007 Sarah Boyer Spring Quarter 2014 Course Description: Poetry is a multi-headed beast and getting a handle on it takes a lifetime of study; however, the Art of Poetry will offer a spring board. Taught in five modules each two weeks long, this course will establish poetic lineages: Lyn Hejinian and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ted Berrigan and Shakespeare, Susan Howe and Emily Dickinson, and James Tate and Baudelaire. Through these pairings we will examine documentary work, sound and sense, prose poetry, and the evolution of formal verse. Class Requirements Breakdown: Pop Quizzes 20% Explications 30% Final Paper 20% Participation and Presentations 20% Recitation 5% Attend Reading 5% 10 Quizzes (1/week unannounced) 2, 2 page explications (1 due week 3, the other due week 6) 2, 10 minute presentations over the quarter 1, 5-7 page final paper Essays: Hejinian “Rejection of Closure” Fanny Howe “Bewilderment” Charles Olson “Projective Verse” Books: James Tate, The Ghost Soldiers ISBN: 978-0-06-143694-8 Anne Carson, If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho ISBN: 0-375-72451-6 Vintage Books Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson ISBN: 978-0-8112-1683-8 New Directions Publishers Ted Berrigan, The Sonnets ISBN 0-14-058927-9 Penguin Publishers Lyn Hejinian, Writing is an Aid to Memory ISBN: 1-55713-271-2 Sun and Moon Press
Introduction to Creative Writing - 2825 - ENGL 1000 - 5 Instructor: Dana Green Room: Sturm Hall 124 Time: M, W 10:00- 11:50 pm Office Hours: By appointment only
This course will focus on the marriage of reading, writing, and experimentation. We will play with the identities that consume us when we live in language for selfish, creative, and/or intellectual pursuits. We will learn how to approach texts as writers, to appreciate the innovation of the texts we consume, identify style and skill of the authors we meet, and apply our discoveries to our own work. We will then use our new readerly abilities to learn how to better revise our work and others. To do this it is important to be open to failure. With that in mind we will take Samuel Beckett’s quote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” as our motto. To do so we will enthusiastically apply failure to our readings, to our writing, to our revision, and to our process. Too often we allow our fear of failure to confine our creative faculties to something that is “safe.” I believe that once we embrace failure our writing will be free to become what it needs to be. Once open to possibility in ourselves and others, we will look at innovation and experimentation. We will examine how we can push ourselves as writers and as academics to places that were previously out of our comfort zones or aesthetic preferences. In order for this class to succeed each student will need to dedicate themselves to it. This is not designed to be an easy class (we will do a lot), but it will be rewarding. This class will revolve around frequent short generative exercises (in class), weekly assignments to be turned in, lots of close reading followed by active class discussion, workshopping, and revision of your own work.
Please note: If you miss class or if you forget the assignment contact one of your peers. Please contact me as a last resort. Not knowing or understanding the assignment is not an excuse to not complete the homework.
Book list: The Collected Works of Billy The Kid Head in Flames Autobiography of Red The Collected Shorter Plays Fidget A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel Sentences
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Michael Onaatje Lance Olsen Anne Carson Samuel Beckett Kennith Goldsmith Tom Phillips Robert Grenier
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Attendance: 40% Class participation and attendance is essential. This class is based on student contribution and discussion. Students will be expected to physically and mentally attend class. Attendance and participation will be recorded each class and will be a large of the final grade. Because this is a conversation centered class you will display your understanding of the material by engaging with it in small groups, brief presentations, and class discussion. If it becomes apparent that you are not keeping up with the reading I will be forced to assign short papers for each text we read. Please do not make me do this. Two excused absences are allowed before your grade will be reduced. Failure to come to class prepared (complete assignment, read the text, bring the text to class, on time) will reduce your grade as well. Tardiness of more than 15 minutes will count as an absence. Students must bring in hard copies of all assignments; no emailed assignments will be accepted.
Writing Exercises: 15% Writing exercises are to push your writing in interesting and strange directions. Over the course of the quarter these will track the progress of your writing. Your exercises must be completed on time with visible effort.
Workshop: 30% Workshops are to learn from each other’s creative process. Exposing your writing to others can be a difficult experience, so it is important to show respect to fellow writers by giving each piece the time and attention you would want shown to yourself. Workshop pieces need to be turned in on your assigned day and comments must be completed the day of workshop.
Final: 15% Your final project will consist of a portfolio of your revised work along with a personal reflection. Further details will come later in the quarter. Late work will be reduced 10% per day late.
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! ! APPENDIX 4
! Colleges that Allow for a Creative Dissertation!
• University of Denver • University of Nevada at Las Vegas • University at Albany • University of Missouri-Columbia • University of Nebraska at Lincoln • University of Illinois at Chicago
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Grade-less Colleges in the US!
! • Antioch University • Bennington College • Evergreen State College • Fairhaven College • Goddard College • Hampshire College • Harvey Mudd College (the first year) • New College of Florida • Reed College (Letter grades are recorded, but the Registrar's Office does not distribute grades to students so long as their work is C or better) • Sarah Lawrence College (although the college maintains a record of student grades for external purposes)
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Duke University. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.duke.edu>. Fanza, D.W. "Creative Writing and Its Discontents." AWP: n. pag. Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.awpwriter.org>. Kaufman, James C., Gentile, Claudia A., and Baer, John. "Do Gifted Student Writers and Creative Writing Experts Rate Creativity the Same Way?" Gifted Child Quarterly (2005): n. pag. Sage Journals. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.gcq.sagepub.com/>. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/ dictionary/>. Radavich, David. "Creative Writing in the Academy." Profession (1999): 106-12. Print. Sharples, Mike. How We Write: Writing as Creative Design. London: Routledge, 1999. Print. Webb, Charles H. "Teaching Creative Writing." Mississippi Review. N.p.: University of Southern Mississippi, n.d. N. pag. Print. William, Friedman H. "Workshopping." Nurse Educator (1979): n. pag. Print.
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Thanks for Reading!