Thursday, November 30, 2006

Teaching Creative Writing, Part One

Bloglily said she would like to hear more about my creative writing workshops. They have played an important part in my life. As in most of my life, serendipity played a crucial part. A graduate student was going to teach a non-credit workshop, found that she couldn’t, and asked me to fill in. I had never attended one, never mind teach one, but I thought I would give it a shot. After that I taught many, from non-credit to undergraduate credit and once a graduate course.

The college I attended had a two stream English department. We concentrated either on writing or on literature. Because the professors wanted to make sure the writing concentration wasn’t a Mickey Mouse choice, we had a literary criticism course that was alleged to be the hardest in the arts faculty. Of course we took literature courses too. The writing courses were not like those of today – they were not focused on creative writing, but on writing in general. There was only one that was like a creative writing course, short story, and it focused more on reading short stories and writing about them than on writing one. So I had no model to base my course on.

My husband has taught creative writing too, and we agree that the main business of teaching is to keep the students writing. Getting feedback from the teacher and the other students gives the student a sense of an audience: what works, what doesn’t work. Once I taught a ten week course, half poetry, half fiction. A participant in the class, a teacher in elementary school, took the course because she was interested in writing fiction, but she cheerfully wrote a poem, her first, for the first class. It was a stunning poem. In her case, my only task was to provide an informed audience and keep her writing, with some technical advice, such as about enjambment, thrown in. Heather later went on to write a lot of poetry, to have her poems published in magazines and in two slim volumes, and to take an MFA in poetry.

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