In the fall I’m teaching a new course in our curriculum, PWR 412: Advanced Creative Writing Workshop. I’ve taught various creative writing courses at least a half-dozen times before and taken many more as a student. As such, I know the workshop drill as well as anyone. Show up. Share your work. Talk about it. Talk about other peoples’ work. Revise your writing. Rinse and repeat.
It’s a tried and true method, and what makes it good or bad is the quality of the professor, the commitment of the students, and the general vibe of the course. In my experience, some are just plain nasty–the classic long knives of grad school. Others are tepid or sugary in their praise.
Somehow though, this time around I’m just not feeling it. Maybe it’s b/c that model supposes some things about writing and creativity that don’t work for me anymore. I also feel though that my students need more direction than that, more direction than write stories and poems then get feedback. So this has me thinking about media mashups and writing machines. Of course it is always the problem of what is interesting to me rather than what is interesting to students. To be honest though, I’ve never had much luck with the latter inasmuch as students rarely have common applicable interests. The trick is always to find balance, the middle path.
The result is that I will have students considering the intersection
of media and the role of machines in composition. Both of these have
obvious historical dimensions, though a workshop is not a place for
deep investigation of these histories. Instead, we are looking at how
"creativity" moves beyond the conventional genres.
I think there’s something telling that the two most common creative
writing genres, the short story and the poem, are probably the two
least viable genres in terms of the broader culture, and certainly in
terms of the marketplace. These genres are common to the classroom b/c
they are doable. You can write two or three stories or a dozen poems in
a semester. It’s the same logic that makes these genres common in intro
to lit courses.
So when I say I am interested in how creativity as an activity spins
itself out into other modes of communication, some might say I am
"tainting" the class with marketplace interests, but i don’t think
those interests are any less noble than ones that pick genres b/c they
are short. And while there is more to the selection of writing poetry
than length, there is also more to my interests than trying to link my
students’ writing interests with some professional future.
Anyway, I guess I’ll see what comes of it, as it goes together.
Suggestions welcome. BTW, I’m using this Blog It application in
Facebook, so I’m curious to see how it turns out.
One reply on “creativity goes crunch”
I dispensed with the workshop method years ago for all of the reasons you detail above. My students workshop–in small groups once a week and continuously on our blogs–but during class meetings we discuss published writing (developing our skills to read for the good of our own writing–and I do not believe writing students read nearly enough this way; they like to toss around a whole lot of lit crit jargon without really seeing what it is the writers are actually doing with narrative voice, characters, structure, etc. on the writing plane) and crack open the elements of nonfiction, fiction, poetry and multimedia forms through series of exercises.
It works. My students are engaged, pushed to limits of their writing selves, and eager for this serious engagement with writing and writers.