Reimagining Creative Writing

How can I help students tell the stories they want to read?

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“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison (1931–2019)

Among other equally encouraging quotes, this one has probably launched several careers. This creative writing teacher should probably make a floor-to-ceiling poster of the quote to hang in the classroom. Perhaps it would inspire some students.

The plan for creative writing class this year was to engage in several craft talks paired with mentor texts to generate discussion and encourage students to create their own pieces. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked.

For one thing, the apathy some students feel during this pandemic is palpable, and we aren’t the only school district to experience the phenomenon.

I take full responsibility for the failure of Creative Writing I this semester, and want to go into next semester reinvigorated and readjusted. With the addition of Creative Writing II, it’s going to be difficult, but our first semester ends January 24, so there is still time to reinvigorate and readjust.

Meanwhile, we could return from break with a new perspective! Let’s be hopeful!

Looking Back, Looking Forward

What happened this semester? We all returned from summer vacation burned out. Personally, being in the middle of a divorce after 16 years of marriage, and dealing with all the ramifications of that did not help at all. I only mention that because it profoundly affected my practice.

There are other factors that affected the course.

  • Students hadn’t signed up for the class. Rather, they had been assigned to it. They weren’t interested in the content at all. Apparently, this happens often, but it is still my job to engage the students somehow. I struggled to do that. This time around, I will do better.
  • I should have helped them activate their prior knowledge more than I did. As I did with other classes, I should have been more keen on “meeting students where they are.” Isn’t that my motto? This time around, I will do better with that. We will review the elements of texts, for example, and spend time on theme and characterization. I know they worked on that in elementary and middle school. Now, I need to help them remember and apply it to their own writing.
  • I should have been more encouraging. I gave up too easily. Looking out at the group, I could see varying levels of interest and desire. It was overwhelmingly depressing. I need to be more persistent, confident, and hopeful.

Perhaps Journaling Will Help

Looking at what I just wrote, it seems there are two main issues: interest and prior knowledge. A structured journal for each student might be the answer.

  • The first prompt would include Morrison’s quote and a simple question: “What kind of story would you like to read? Has it been written yet? If it has, write about the existing text and how you would tell the story if you were to write something similar. If it has not, free-write about how you would tell the story.”
  • Subsequent prompts would focus on activating that prior knowledge. A short lecture, followed by time journaling about the topic, could help dislodge that understanding from the archive. Topics would include characterization, plot/structure, conflict, narration, figurative language and symbolism, etc. Yes, I taught all those things this semester, but need to do more to help students own their understanding.
  • The prompts to follow would then combine their interest with that prior knowledge. Who are their characters? What’s the conflict, and how does that drive the plot/structure? Who is the narrator, and is the narrator reliable or not? What symbols will you use and why? What figurative language works best?
  • Then, and only then, comes the story. Again, I tried this semester to take a structured approach, but I need to work harder to help them own their story and understanding. I need to model the enthusiasm I am trying to generate.
  • After story writing, I can tackle poetry. Poetry is always difficult, but the longer I teach it, the more I love it. I need to model that enthusiasm too.

With structure — day-to-day prompts just waiting for them — could come confidence and interest. What do you think? Please leave a comment.

Modeling the Enthusiasm

This could be another factor in the success of Creative Writing I and II. This time around, I need to write with them more often. After the short lecture, I need to project my writing and demonstrate how committed I am to writing by completing my journal alongside them.

When we return from break, this semester’s class will receive a journal, and I will write alongside them.

What Do You Think?

Thank you for reading this post. Please leave a comment if you like. Here’s to a great 2022 and beyond!

Photo by Dhimas Arya on Unsplash

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