When I first started at my university, I planned on taking creative writing classes. I think they're useful for polishing craft and learning about the way that other people both produce work and then revise it. But, I also knew (or thought I knew) that I would hate them. I expected pretentious professors, equally pretentious student and to not be taken seriously as a writer (because the only thing that I can ever turn out or enjoy turning out is speculative fiction).
I didn't take my first creative writing class (outside of high school, where I had an amazing experience with Mr. Cunningham) until the fall of my sophomore year. I was terrified but new that if I wanted to graduate with a creative writing degree or take independent study my junior and senior year, I would have to do it. I would have to deal with the demoralization.
Thank God, I didn't.
My first professor was amazing. She was a former editor for Playboy; she was vibrant, welcoming, and supportive. Before I'd ever told her I wanted to apply for the Creative Writing major, she told me that I should. When I expressed fear before my first workshop experience, she told me that I'd be fine, that the students were supportive, that even if they weren't, she would be. I came out of that class thinking, "I'm so blessed that my school is different" and happily applied for the following creative writing course. My experience in that class was even better. The focus was fiction writing (as opposed to my first class which was fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry) so I got to write a lot of what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. My classmates were amazing, my professor was amazing, and my experience went beyond anything that I could have imagined. And when this professor recommended who to take for the sequential course, I happily took her recommendation.
I wish I hadn't.
The backbone of any creative writing class is the workshop. You submit your work to your classmates and they dissect it. They tell you what they liked, what worked, what they didn't like and what didn't work. For the workshop to work, the writer has to trust that her or his critics are honest and truthful and know what they're talking about. And the critics have to work to give the writer valuable feedback.
The professor has minimal involvement in this process. Their job is to monitor the discussion and make sure that it is helpful, to step in when they feel the students have gone off course, and to elaborate on points that they think are important. If a workshop is going well, you should never hear the professors voice: they already know what to do - it's the students' opportunity to learn how to give critique and take critique.
My current professor is one in an amazing department at my university. But she makes me question how she could have been teaching creative writing for ten years. The workshop, which I considered a safe and often times empowering enviroment, is now - in her class - something I don't want any part in. Not only does she dominate the discussion, thereby removing the students' ability to learn, but she does it rudely. She interrupts students making points, and when she does make points, they are usually unrelated to the discussion. Yesterday, she pantomimed a passage from the work we were workshopping, and ranted for more than five minutes about how horrible, terrible and poorly written it was. In front of the writer. In front of the entire class. I was too mortified to look at the writer.
This cannot happen.
A workshop is supposed to be a safe environment where you can submit work and hope to improve. It's not an opportunity to rant on how much you hate a style. And it can be effective in deterring a person from writing or taking your criticisms seriously when you do what the professor did. Now, I don't want to submit to the class. I don't want to be in this class at all. And if I didn't need it to qualify for independent study in the spring, I would drop it right now.
If you'd like, feel free to share your horror stories and your good stories about creative writing professors. Who's shaped you as a writer and who has done the opposite?
The twitter giveaway is still going! I'll be giving away two books today since I forgot about it yesterday. Look forward to it! :) And have a great week!
A SAFE PLACE
i cant make this shit up|rant|writing|writing advice|