As an undergraduate student I was told to write with reckless abandon, without a prompt to allow my mind to think about and engage in a topic or idea. We would read some poems and short stories as models, but there wasn’t a formal lecture about the use of technique, the subject matter employed, or the style of writing. I wondered what was creative about these writings aside from them having been published, which then made me wonder how I could be “creative.” During the workshops, I often felt like I did not have the discourse to actively discuss the strengths and weaknesses in my fellow classmates’ poems and short stories. I found that I could only offer subjective statements such as “I liked this poem because of its subject matter” or “I didn’t like the title because I couldn’t relate to it,” yet I could not articulate myself beyond these statements. I felt like I was cheating my fellow peers out of receiving feedback that was helpful and constructive, and subsequently I was being cheated as well.
My current position has allowed me many opportunities to advance my pedagogy in a range of creative writing classes. One especially positive tool I have developed is a workshop model combining aspects of a literature seminar with the student focus of a traditional workshop. While the traditional workshop’s New Critical methodology is indispensable for close reading, its shortcoming is a tendency to isolate each student’s poem or short story as a specimen under glass without asking the author to consider the larger aesthetic forming his/her work. I have found that beginning and advanced writers engage remarkably well in a “scholarly workshop” which includes extensive reading of established authors as well as critique of student writings. In my introductory classes, students read several collections of poetry or fiction. We then consider the formal and thematic elements of each book, posing strategies by which students can use the established works as models. When we critique student writing, I emphasize that our goal is to comment on the piece before us and to ask questions that will help the writer move toward his/her next work. Since many of the students who take my introductory class are not English majors, I often try to explore the relationship between creative writing and other disciplines.