From the short year that I’ve been in an English department, I’ve come to discover that saying creative writing in relation to teaching composition is somewhat forbidden. We all, of course, acknowledge that our disciplines are not mutually exclusive, but secretly, maybe we wish it was? Like I said, I haven’t really been around long enough to know.
I do know that I’ll be flying solo as a teacher for the first time this fall and I do have a creative writing background and that scares composition people on occasion, but do not fear! I have no intention of teaching anyone how to write a short story this fall. If they want that, I’ll be happy to recommend some great classes they can look forward to later in their career and some good books they can read now.
In my class, however, I’m interested in analysis. I want to give my students practical tools and methods that they can use to analyze the things going on around them. I’m using a great text that offers several. The book emphasizes withholding judgement, of course, which- wait? Don’t storytellers do that? Anyway- It also emphasizes noticing things. In fact, one tool the book outlines for students is called notice and focus. Didn’t John Gardner give advice to writers that said “be someone on whom nothing is lost? These are the things I want to get my students into. Even Stephen King offers fantastic advice to writers of any genre (ex- The road to hell is paved with adverbs).
Basically, what I’m saying is I’m a beginner who is going to experiment with a creative writing model of teaching in the composition classroom. We’re not going to write short stories, creative nonfiction essays, or even poems, but we are going to write. We’re going to analyze the world around us, which honestly is what fiction does in a way? Right?
The biggest, practical change I’m going to try out is a full-fledged workshop, complete with author’s notes and beta notes prepared by workshop partners prior to the workshop. I think this could work, and I hope to report on progress, lessons that worked/failed, and the overall success or failure of this plan. I think my creative writing background has taught me how to talk about writing and I hope that as I move forward, I can use that background to re-energize my composition students. Here’s hoping!