Professional Writing

"creative writing" and the creative economy

I’m teaching our "advanced creative writing" course this semester. It’s a new course that adds another layer onto our "creative writing" curriculum. As I’ve noted in the past, the majority of students come to our professional writing program with a primary interest in writing fiction or poetry or screenplays. There are many reasons for this. First, besides the academic writing they are required to do, these genres are the ones they encounter as writing. That is, they obviously encounter other writing, at least in textbooks, but no one makes mention of it as writing. So when they think of writers, they think of those genres. Second, they buy into the mainstream cultural romanticism of this writing. They wish to participate affectively and ideologically in that identity and experience.

I also wanted to write stories and poems when I was an undergrad. I was in a garage band writing music. Hell, I produced a collection of poetry for my MA thesis. So, I get it.

As a program, we want to encourage our students’ creativity and support their writing practice. If they wish to pursue a life as a poet or novelist, we want to support that. We want them to know what that means, but in the end we see our program as benefiting students who choose that path. At the same time, we also want to introduce our students to a broad range of professional writing careers, and we want to help them understand how to translate their creativity into these other genres and writing situations.

There are two levels of challenge in doing so though. I think there continues in the humanities generally to be antipathy toward notions of commerce and the marketplace. We typically say that English is a great degree that can prepare you for any number of professions, but we never want to be specific about how. Talking about creativity as a marketable skill remains anathema for most, and our students pick up on that. it’s like they have a kind of superstition about ruining their mojo if they turn toward the marketplace. And yet it seems hopelessly naive to imagine that our challenges with globalization, the environment, education, and so on will not be confronted in the context of the market. For example, do we really believe that even our relatively parochial concerns with teaching new media composition will be resolved through abstract, intellectual debate? Or will the outcome of that matter come about through larger market forces? Come on! But I digress…

My point is that we need creativity not only to devise solutions to these problems but to communicate those solutions to other people and create supportive communities to carry out solutions. We are entering an era where a facility for creative communication on a global scale will be highly prized. The humanities, English in particular, is a good place for students to move toward this, but only if we can give out our illusion that we are floating in the clouds.

The second challenge is no easier. It has to do with figuring out exactly how you might make this translation. How do you adapt your creativity as a poet to creativity in communicating a more purposeful or rhetorical message? Let’s say you want to help a group of local, organic farmers by convincing local school boards to purchase local produce for school lunches. How do you take your creative skill with metaphor and image and produce a convincing letter or brochure or presentation?

In other words what does the use of the word creative in "creative writing" and "creative economy" share?

My first impulse is to turn to Richard Gabriel’s notion of an MFA in Software where software design occurs in a workshop environment. That is, there could be some shared social-cultural practices. I think there may be some possible connections in terms of practices of invention, of moving beyond rational problem-solving strategies to techniques that involve tapping into the unconscious and affective (thinking here again about Ulmer’s emer-agency). But I don’t really have any answers. However I’m going to try to focus on some of these questions this semester in my courses.

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