Friday, December 07, 2007

Lessons Learned in a Creative Writing Class

So, I began an Advanced Prose class this semester with some ambivalence because, on the one hand, I don’t think you can be taught to be creative. On the other hand, if you have some creative talent, I think that it can be made better by learning and practicing the mechanics of writing and grammar, and by doing exercises that help generate a better flow of ideas. But, I’m always skeptical about taking a creative writing class where people who already think that they have some talent come expecting to leave a genius. (Not me, of course. I still have a hard time believing it when people tell me I’m good…but, I’m coming around.) Furthermore, in these classes, except for a midterm and final portfolio, you spend the rest of the semester being critiqued and evaluated by your peers. I understand that it might be challenging for a professor to have to read the feeble efforts of students’ (10 to 15 of them), week in and week out over the course of the semester. But, I didn’t pay $360 to hear some third year undergrad tell me my story is no good because it doesn’t involve a twenty-something, real estate mogul/stripper with a Ph.D. whose man is cheatin’ on them. I want the doctor in the room to tear it apart.

However, I did find that there were some things I learned that I can use. The text that we used for this course Writing Fiction Step By Step by Josip Novakovich included some simple exercises that make me believe that writer’s block could very well be a thing of the past. I found exercises on scene building and character profiles that I think will help me to develop better stories with more complex characters. New Sudden Fiction, ed. Robert Shapard & James Thomas and Short Fiction by 33 Writers, ed. Mark Winegardner provides a treasure chest of some of the best short stories to read and learn from. Overall, I think this class has shown me, perhaps, how rigid I have been. I tend to write in a linear way, that is, my histories tend to happen in a straight line. At least on paper they do. But, I am excited about the possibilities of moving back and forth in a story through scenes. I think this will allow me more flexibility and freedom in my storytelling. What’s more is that I think I am a little more open to the experience of a creative writing class, and I believe that I may even turn out to be a better writer as a result.

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