Archive for the ‘creative writing’ Category

Reflections on comp reading and women in creative writing

Monday, July 15th, 2013

A lot of graduate students tend to bemoan or fear the comprehensive exams portion of their study. I do admit there is stress involved, for sure, and perhaps a little fear, so far I have learned quite a lot from my reading for comps. And while I don’t feel I have made as large a dent in the reading as I would have liked, it seems the more I read, the more manageable this work becomes. It is also nice to be able to go through a very long list and cross out a recent reading. I also enjoy reading something in the morning and then reading something later in the afternoon and being able to already draw comparisons and synthesize the two readings, even when they are very different, such as how I was able to draw comparisons between my Kant reading and later my reading about the creative writing workshop. I know that sounds crazy, but there were comparisons, mainly around the idea of how the mind creates cause and effect.

To be honest, I’ve been reading mostly from my pedagogy list for creative writing because that is the one area I have not had a class in. While I have sat in plenty creative writing workshops, I have not sat down and read about creative writing as pedagogy and creative writing as a discipline. What I have found is while there aren’t very many good histories written about creative writing as a field, most people seem to argue that creative writing is often easily linked to composition and literature, and in fact came to exist at the University of Iowa because of these reasons. At the same time, many feel it needs to be considered its own discipline, distinct from literature or composition, and everyone has their own theories for how to do that. And this fact also explains why creative writing has so many problems with site identity in the university.

But creative writing is also very masculine and why it is so is partly because of when creative writing came of age. When the workshop at Iowa opened, it was right when WWII vets were returning to school because of the GI Bill. And the writers who entered these programs, and why the creative writing MFA came about in the first place, was to give support and a place for experienced writers. But what many scholars, such as Vanderslice, Ritter, and Bizzaro, note is that the demographics of creative writing programs has changed. For example, there are undergraduate programs in creative writing and often writers who are still at the beginning stages of writing are entering MFA programs. Thus the traditional workshop model that is masculine and based heavily in fictive bloodshed is not a good pedagogical tool for these students. Critics of the workshop, such as the late Wendy Bishop, proposed instead the “transactional” writer’s workshop, and this idea was later addressed and revised by Stephanie Vanderslice. This workshop often has three aspects:
1. it demystifies authorship so that students understand what a writer’s life is really like and how there is no such thing as a muse or anything similar to that. It also helps to demonstrate the real work that goes into a piece of writing.
2. the new workshop provides reflection on one’s writing and creative process so that students, particularly those beginning writers, understand what drives their creativity and where and how they are most creative.
3. This type of workshop also provides reflection on one’s own writing process. Bizzaro himself notes that number three, to him, is most important since student writers need that space, in class, for reflection. He also adds that having students look at published poems and help them to imagine what a writer may write next or talk about the possible writing process for that poem is also helpful in regards to numbers 1 and 2.

As I was reading in my office this morning, I kept thinking about a brief exchange I had with a friend who has a PhD in Creative Writing. He has commented a number of times about how the poetry workshop always seemed like a “happier” or more feminine space since his fiction workshops were often like a Bobby Knight school of workshop and composing. I don’t remember saying too much in response, except maybe more or less agreeing or mentioning how there were some moments in poetry workshops where things got tense. But what he was really commenting on had nothing to do with the distinctions between poetry or fiction workshops, and everything to do with the reasons for creating the workshop in the first place during the 1930s-1940s, along with those who were his teachers, along with the reputation of the program itself. Creative Writing, whether we like it or not, has a largely masculine influence.

When I was in my early 20s I had my first in-print publication. It was a collection of writing from three different female poets, all under 25, since women under the age of 25 are the least published in creative writing. I just remember thinking it was cool and not really realizing the significance of the work we were doing. As I continue reading, I keep thinking about creating a press, digital or otherwise, that would focus on publishing only women writers. Even though I think this would be great, and though I am sure similar avenues exist, I also feel that the small press has created a voice for women in creative writing, the small press has also confined women writers to those areas. It is still easier to get published if you are male and writing fiction. Most women seem to publish in poetry or in the fields of creative nonfiction or get published because they wrote a really great romance, or perhaps something akin to 50 Shades and none of these are considered to be “serious” writing. I know this isn’t always the case, but often it is. I know J.K Rowling exists, obviously, but she also published a more “serious” novel under a male name, didn’t she?

Or maybe I should just start telling everyone I am working on a novel.

A Brief History of Creative Writing’s Academic Origins

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Today I started reading D.G. Myers The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing since 1880First of all, this title is a bit deceptive since Myers does discuss events prior to 1880, but these events are important to note since they brought about the creation of English Composition at Harvard, which in turn had a number of faculty members in those first years that helped bring about Creative Writing as the academic discipline we know today.

One thing I didn’t expect in this reading was the entrance of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his 1837 Phi Beta Kappa Address titled, “The American Scholar,” Emerson states “There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.” This, Myers notes, is the first time we see creative and writing used together as a term, and yet fifty years after this discussion, there was yet to see any evidence of what Emerson was trying to point his listener’s toward: a more humanistic approach to English. (To add: Emerson also discussed “symbolic sight” by which poets reveal the spirit within matter, so I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised at finding Emerson is a part of all this. Thank you, Emerson. I owe you one.)

While Emerson wasn’t turning toward the concept of Creative Writing as we understand it today, he was trying to steer students away from the then present teachings of Philology, which focused on studying English as a language, in all its practicality. Literature was only taught to examine language and rhetoric, and not taught to examine the spiritual, or more humanistic or artistic approaches to that literature. This, of course, grew out of things like Darwinism and the importance of rational, scientific discourse that everyone saw as important in a good education. Literary study just wasn’t a part of this.

And what Emerson was trying to point toward was a study of literature we do and know of today, and that is a literary discussion and critique. With this new openness for literature, which became a subject at Harvard with teachers like A.S. Hill, the man who could be considered the “father” of Creative Writing as a discipline Barrett Wendell, Le Baron Briggs, and Charles Copeland, came creative writing.

But when I say out of them came Creative Writing, I am not telling the entire truth since CW wasn’t really a subject yet. Instead, it was English Composition (which formerly had been called the New English). It is simply that the teaching practices of instructors like A.S. Hill, Barrett Wendell, and Charles Copeland helped bring about creative writing as a discipline.

A.S. Hill wrote Principles of Rhetoric (1878) founded on the belleristic notion that elements of literary style are suitable for any type of speech or writing. While Hill was essentialist in his thinking, and embraced ideals of Platonic authorship in that he felt that innate genius had something to do with good writing, he was also moving toward a constructivist approach  in that writing could be seen as a way humans construct a self. Further, there are four features of Hill’s idea of composition that mirror Creative Writing:

  1. Literary over the rhetorical
  2. Writing is thought of in terms of its intrinsic demands
  3. Writing is a constructive activity that depends on judgement and devise a solution to a unique problem of literary form.
  4. Writing is a liberal art, and an effort to retrieve English from Philology and Rhetorical dogmatism.

While it would seem at A.S. Hill could be considered the “father” (and yes, I hate using that word almost as much as you hate seeing it) of Creative Writing, Barrett Wendell appears a more likely candidate. Wendell was hired to teach an advanced composition class at Harvard and in his classes he required his students to write a daily theme, and it is from him that we get this idea of writing a theme in Composition classes. While you may scoff at the daily theme idea, this had an instructional purpose in that they were used as a scaffold to help students write longer, more complex essays, which he had students turn in every two weeks.

What is unique about Wendell in terms of him ushering in a place for Creative writing is that he required the writing his students turned in had an effect on the audience and not just show that students understood the content of the material, which is what other writing teachers asked students to do. And sure, there are rhetorical elements here, such as the notion of audience effect, but this is as rhetorical as Longinus is rhetorical.

Myers argues that Wendell reinvented the teaching of writing in five ways:

  1. Writing was the subject of instruction. Writing was no longer part of another discipline. Instead, writing was its own discipline.
  2. Writing is not just rhetorical, but also about expression, personal or social or otherwise.
  3. Writing Required literary judgement and aesthetic cultivation for it to be successful
  4. Writers should be the teachers of writing
  5. Purpose of writing is not scholarly examination, but also in the making of that writing. In other words, there needs to be a purpose for why the writer constructed the essay as he or she did (hence, the rhetorical mention in #2).

While Wendell did a lot to help us understand English composition, as well as help create a space for creative writing in the university, Le Baron Briggs is sometimes seen as taking his place in this roll call, if you will, but only because he was seen as a better teacher than Wendell and students simply liked him more. In other words, Myers seems to argue that Le Baron Briggs was the “cool kid” everyone wanted to be and people liked him and therefore they wanted to give him the credit for this, but it really wasn’t him. Just laying that down for you all.

The final instructor, Charles Copeland, seemed to argue for a less romantic and and less imaginative type of writing, and looked more to writing as reporting. The only reason Myers seems to mention him is because he told students to write of life as they see it, and that is one of the big tenets in creative writing: a creative writer can only write what they know.

What I found interesting in this reading was how English Composition and its close cousin, Creative Writing, came about because people were sick and tired of the scientific approach to studying literature, which came about because of Darwin, etc. They wanted to harken back to the Romantics and their way of thinking, which of course brings us all back to the idea of Platonic authorship, or the Author-Genius. And really, many of these Harvard instructors mentioned that, but they also can be seen as constructivists as well, as Copeland asks them to write of the world as they see it and Hill believed that writing helped to relay a sense of self. But they were all doing what Emerson had mentioned in his address in 1837: emphasize a creative thinking and a creative writing. Something far removed from the philological study that was ever-present at Harvard until Charles W. Eliot begin his presidency at Harvard and ushered in A.S Hill and others to teach English Composition.

Second draft from Red River Valley Writing Project

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I’ll try to remember to post the first draft soon, which is just a paragraph so I may just leave it as a comment. But here is the updated second draft I composed this afternoon after the first draft from this morning. Note this has some fictional elements.

In my small town, us kids used to hang out near the abandoned railroad tracks and smoke cigarettes and talk about parties we had only heard about from the high school kids. We hung out near the railroad tracks mostly out of convenience as they were near where we lived and we knew the older kids partied not far from there late at night. By hanging out where the high schoolers did, we felt as if we were a part of that circle, that crew, that crowd. We thought we were cool or we desperately wanted to be cool.

Our town was small—less than 300 people–and so we had nothing to do but get into trouble or pretend we were getting into trouble. If you want a picture of our town, it looked something like this: two churches, one small grocery store, a post office, a bank, an elementary school, one bar situated on the only hill in town, and an old folks’ home right across from the town park. The town had one main drag that pretty much touched all these landmarks. On one end of the town was the elementary school and on the other end was the old folks home and so in some ways the town was laid out in a progression of life, though the cemetary was the thing caught in the middle. And, of course, being so small, even as a child you knew everyone in the town and even remembered some of the dead caught in between the progression from school to nursing home.

But even with the park, which we as children ran to sometimes, the main area of interest was those railroad tracks where we would meet up. I remember exchanging mixed tapes with my friends out at those old railroad tracks. I remember talking about the music we liked, what was on MTV, and gossiping about the other kids at school. I remember sometimes we would call the numbers on the soda bottles just to have someone new to talk to or getting the passing semi’s to honk by punching our fists high into the air. We thought we were going to be trouble when we walked right into the bar one day and used quarters to buy cheap sex toys from the bathroom vending machine.

We weren’t as much trouble as we pretended to be, though, so when one of our friends actually robbed the small town grocery, there fell a new, strange silence over the rest of that summer. I remember spending less time down by the railroad tracks. I remember how none of us knew what to say to the boy who had robbed the store, though he liked to pretend nothing had ever happened. There was only one time he brought it up and he told me how other people had helped him, but they never got into trouble because they were not seen as trouble. Those other boys were from better, more well-to-do families where both parents had good jobs and they always attended church on sundays and they came to school in nice clothes and always looked clean. So when he tried to explain he wasn’t alone, and who else was with, he was either not believed or ignored and of course those boys from the families who fit together more like a puzzle denied any involvement.

The boy who robbed the store moved away in August of that summer. I had a crush on him, so I remember feeling sad and trying to think up ways to go visit him. I knew where he was going. It was a town not far away, about a 40 minute drive, and near what we called lakes country and so I knew most of my friends would be headed out that way anyway. It would be easy to get a ride. What I didn’t know was that in a year my family would be in a similar transition and I would be moving not 40 minutes away, but three hours away, and into another state and into another school and another group of friends.

As an adult, I don’t often think about my experiences in that town. Those days seem so lost to time, like a horizon you just cannot ever reach, as much as you try to see into that distance. Yet, I know those summer days, people, and experiences left a profound resonance with me that I sometimes remember when I see young, troubled students in my own classes or when I go back to where I grew up in those summers and see the young children out there, no longer playing by the now overgrown and abandoned railroad, but in a nice, updated town park. I see them laugh with each other and lean against the trees like they are cool and waiting for someone to step into their life like this is a movie and they have suddenly entered the next scene.
I remember our friend who robbed the store had to return all the goods or pay back for what he had stolen so there would be no charges and his family moved away later that summer.

Computers and Writing nOOb

Monday, June 10th, 2013

First of all, this post really doesn’t at all convey my true excitement about all that I learned at C&W 2013. It only tries to get at the big picture points, as most of my blog posts do.

‘This past week I attended my first Computers and Writing (#cwcon on Twitter) conference. Before I tell you more, I have to confess one thing:

I do not write code. I am not a programmer. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

And at first, I thought this might be a stumbling block, or a complete dead end in the road, especially as I participated in the Graduate Research Network and met a ton of coders and computer programmer types. I just sat there through most of the conversations and wondered WTF, am I in the right place? What am I doing here? These people are great, I thought, but I have nothing to contribute to this conversation. My only knowledge of any code is basic HTML knowledge that I picked up in the mid and late 90s and by now that is probably so old it is akin to ancient rhetoric, though admittedly I still use it when I need to. And I mean, anyone who had a livejournal account and/or an angelfire site had to use some basic HTML. You want to bold and italicize, don’t you? You want to insert that link. You need that cool graphic on your livejournal. But do I code? Oh, hell no. In fact, I have some interest in coding, but not enough to get me started fully right now. I have started codeacademy, but my progress is slow, mainly because of everything else I am doing. But that is probably more or less an excuse.

But as I continued to participate in the conference, I felt more at ease. For one, no one was bothered that I was tweeting or using my phone during panels. People always assume I am not paying attention if I am on my phone or ipad or macbook, but normally I am and in most cases I was actually tweeting the conference panel. I also was able to participate in a number of discussions about social media and teaching, about creative writing and new media (and by the way, I met a ton of people who are creative writers and do use social media to distribute, promote, and work on their writing, so haha), and there was even some really fun and nostalgic discussions about angelfire, livejournal, and even Homestar Runner. In fact, I think a few of us got really nostalgic about Homestar Runner via Twitter. In some ways, these folks were speaking my language, even if I did not know Javascript or Python.

Along with that, I learned a lot, especially about multimodality. A lot of the panels I went to focused on multimodal pedagogy. Probably the most useful thing I came away with in terms of teaching was how to better my multimodal assignments, particularly the professional blog assignment. I realized I need to almost completely revamp that, particularly the rubric. Students have been kind of awful at the multimodal component of the blog, and after attending computers and writing, I understand why. I realized I need to make these things much more explicit to them and maybe eventually work to teach them some code, once i start to learn it. I also need to talk with them more about “hacking spaces.” I need to get them to use Google Drive, Google+ hangouts, etc more, especially in my online classes. What people discussed and presented on inspired me not to do more with technology, because I already do a lot and don’t want to start the Creepy Treehouse, but to do better with technology.

Finally, I don’t think I have been to a more friendly, collegial conference in my life. I think I must have connected with at least 30 people via Twitter and am still getting Twitter follows. But don’t go thinking this conference was some Utopia conference, especially considering the coffee situation, though that stuff was entirely contextual to Frostburg, or seemed to be. I think some things need to be improved (for example, I heard a few complaints about gender in terms of women who don’t code and the bias that surrounds that as well as how race has been treated at the conference), but I think those conversations are getting started, or seemed to be and I hope they are and that those conversations grow and continue. Either way, C&W has a great community with highly talented people and great ideas that are already being implemented. At one point in the conference, Karl Stolley said that ‘if you aren’t here, I don’t know what you are doing.” While that may sound harsh, he has a point. I don’t feel my connection to technology is a bad thing when it is a learning and teaching tool and has given me, and all of us, the opportunities we now enjoy and will enjoy later.

Site Identity Politics

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

After I graduated from my undergraduate university with a degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis, I went on to study Literature at another university. In one of my first classes, I had my professor tell our class how creative writing departments were “silly” and how all those MFA students thought they would write the “next great American novel.” I was upset about hearing this, because I knew it wasn’t true, but I was also a new graduate student and so of course I didn’t say anything. Plus, I’m from the midwest and it embarrasses us to say anything bad in front of anyone, or say anything at all, really. I think many of us know that in reality, most MFA students do not think they will write the next great american novel, but consider it wouldn’t be a bad deal if they did, though they know the realities. Also, the MFA program at this school was the department’s breadbasket.

I had come from a department where, as an undergraduate, I was shielded from these kinds of feelings. I cannot say they didn’t exist in my previous department, because they certainly did, I learned later. But as I continued my graduate career, I came in contact with frictions between literature and creative writing, composition and creative writing, and literature and rhetoric and each of these frictions are annoying and pointless. They do not help us articulate the importance of the humanities in education. They do not help us to accomplish anything but our own agendas without listening to outside perspectives.

Currently, I’m reading scholarship regarding creative writing studies, and finding that one of the big problems creative writing faces in the university is a lack of site identity. Where do you find Creative Writing in the university? The answer is you often find it in other departments. Another big problem is a lack of theory within creative writing, though I think there is theory there, just under the table, or perhaps that elephant in the room. But the truth is creative writers don’t get creative writing degrees to do research. They do it to write, and this brings a whole different attitude to what is meant by research or theory, but that is part of the problem, too. It makes it harder for us to enter that Burkean parlor, which I always picture being filled with self-important white men with cigars and this, of course, is also how I picture Burke himself. So should we create our own? If we do that, who is invited? And, perhaps most importantly, what are we talking about?

With all these frictions, and with the problematic nature of creative writing in the university which in this blog post I haven’t even touched the surface of, it leaves me wondering if English departments are outdated. In other words, should we have a Literature department and a Writing Studies department and a creative writing department and a linguistics department? I don’t know. But the truth of the matter is that if we cannot support each other, as a community, it may be something to think about.

New Media and Creative Writing

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

I’ve been a “creative writer” for as long as I can remember. I remember writing stories before I started writing poems. I wrote a novella when I was in elementary school in the vein of Stephen King and I’ll admit I learned about subplots from him and characterization, and I probably even borrowed some characters from him, but gave them different names, altered storylines, but nonetheless sampled, to an extent. If you care, the novella was a blend of something King-esque and influences by Audrey Rose (book, not film), which I know sounds terribly similar.

But because of this, and because of my current studies, I’m working on linking new media and creative writing in efforts to further legitimize it as a field. There are reasons for doing this, such as establishing a stronger site identity for creative writing in the university (honestly, how often do you see a creative writing department?) and giving it some sound theoretical grounding (craft criticism, using OOO with poetics, theories of authorship studies and new media, for example). I’m using the four areas suggested by Adam Koehler in “Digitizing Craft: Creative Writing and New Media: A proposal” which are 1. process, 2. genre, 3. authorship and 4. institutionality.

But my question is the following: if one were to link new media and creative writing to further legitimize it as a field of study, what should it even be called? What do creative writers think of the term “creative writing” itself? For example, the word creativity usually implies “original” and that sets off all kinds of ideas about things like the muse, voice, etc.

In thinking about this in terms of Koehler’s essay, he uses the term “Digital Creative Writing Studies.” He uses the term “digital” to imply how genres and authorship expand, mutate, an resist in digital spaces. He uses the term “studies” so we can build theory into the practice of creative writing, and link this all to pedagogy and build these bridges and expand these ideas.

While I don’t mind the phrasing of “Digital Creative Writing Studies”, I am certainly not attached and think we can find other terms as well. I’m also questioning this since there is more than “writing” done in a digital environment, so should we even use that term? Or is it still ok because we are still talking/thinking/doing writing, as a primary activity, even though we are working in new media environments. The word creative also a loaded term since it implies being original, though creative writing is thought to be creative in that it refers to being innovative, thoughtful, sampling, and using the tools available to create something as a form of self-expression or for sharing with others or both, and most often both. And creativity is one of those terms that may mean different things to different people. And in this sense, I may be oversimplifying the term “creative” and “creativity.” (Hint: I probably am.)

So today I started experimenting with others terms one could use. Such as New Media Creative Writing, New Media Creative Writing Studies (so long, I know, but it respects both new media and creative writing, which is really an important term that would be hard to get away from) and New Media Craft Studies and for a brief wonderful moment, Digital Craft studies, though there is a lot about digital craft.

But maybe terminology is no big thing, though it really is, at least in a university. Terminology is also a double edged sword in that once you create it, you cannot get away from it. But Creative Writing, as a field, does need to legitimize itself, which is why I focus (and why Koehler focuses) on the four areas that we do. By looking at process, authorship, genre, and the institution of creative writing in the university, we can build that. But terminology seems important as well, even though this may be premature.

I hate it when I answer my own questions. I think I just did there.

But all the same, if you are a creative writer, I would love to know what you think about the following terms:

  1. Creativity/Creative
  2. Creative Writing as a term/institution in the university
  3. Digital spaces/new media

Never feel the need to answer all of those things. Pick something important. Say something about it. We are in need of voices (no pun intended), scholarship and discourse around these things in creative writing departments.