Monday, December 15, 2014

Creative Writing and College Life

This young writer asked me to blog an answer to the following question: "As an English Lit. student, how did you find the time to practice your creative story writing (that is supposing that you did)? Did you attempt to keep up with personal writing along with the academic, or did you wait till you finished?"

Great question, and a pertinent one for all of you college students currently coming up on the last weeks of the semester . . .

I did practice some creative writing while in college, but not much to be honest. There were creative writing opportunities afforded through various classes. I remember writing one Art History paper in the form of a short story . . . I covered all of the material I was supposed to, hitting every note and demonstrating depth of understanding for the material. I just did it as fiction. It was a bit of a dare to say the least (and something I had to okay with my teacher in advance!), but he ended up loving it, and I got an excellent grade.

I was also part of touring drama team my sophomore year, and we wrote a lot of our own material. I wrote a skit based on the Bible story about the woman caught in adultery who is brought before Jesus as the townsfolk threaten to stone her. It was intense, and definitely a different form of storytelling for me. A great creative writing experience.

I took a poetry class, which was excellent, and which had a much more profound influence on my work than I ever expected. I am not nor ever will be a skilled poet. But our professor gave us weekly assignments to write different types of poems, most of which I based on Goldstone Wood story lines and themes. This gave me a fun opportunity to dip my toe back into my imaginative world even while focusing on my academic world. And it taught me quite a lot about how to approach poetry.

During my college years I wrote "The Hymn of Hymlumé," which features in Moonblood, the "I saw her standing on a hill" poem which features in Veiled Rose, "Eanrin's Lullaby" which features in Starflower, and several more. None of these were written specifically for my poetry class, but they were definitely inspired by what I was learning at the time!

I took two creative writing classes while in college, one in my sophomore year, one in my junior year. I can honestly say I didn't find them helpful. Not for the sort of creative writing I wanted to explore. I got good grades, and my professors for both classes were complimentary of my work and style. But I didn't feel either challenged or inspired by either of them. (Which was not the fault of my professors! Let me just put that out there. And this is not to say that students shouldn't take creative writing classes in college and learn what they can from them.)

That being said, the original short story version of Starflower was written for the first of those two classes. It had been put down in notation form during high school, and I revisited those notes while coming up with short story ideas for class. It was called Imraldera and the Wolf Lord, and I thought it was absolutely the most dreadfully written thing on the planet when I first pounded it out! But a handful of girls on my hall read it and gave me fantastically encouraging feedback. So I went ahead and submitted it, and got fantastically encouraging feedback from my professor as well. Thus, while for the most part I don't consider those classes particularly bright spots in my writerly career, that one moment was encouraging.

Altogether the creative writing classes were not particularly useful. The actual literature classes, however, were invaluable! Completely worth every hour I spent both in class and pouring over the material outside of class. While I wasn't actively writing much during this period of my life, I was learning so much about good writing and good reading, developing skills and mental processes that continue to be vital parts of my day-to-day working life.

For the most part, my personal creative writing had to take a back burner to academics. That isn't to say that I ignored my stories entirely, but . . . I had to focus on other priorities. Was it a little hard to let my writing sit for so long? Not really. Sometimes I missed it, yes, but I knew that I was pursuing the very best preparation possible for the career I wanted. I was learning about great literature and what made it great. I was learning about authors and how they thought and worked and functioned. Every class I took, I took with the idea that "This will improve my writing . . . somehow!"

In the end, I sat down and wrote Heartless the summer after I finished college. The rest, as they say, is history . . .

6 comments:

Joy said...

Anne Elisabeth, I love this post. It is so encouraging! Right now, I have done so little writing because I am so busy with my schooling, so it can be discouraging to have those bits of writing ideas but no time or energy to write, and then university afterwards to think about, but I am just encouraged so much that one can still store up things and learn, for the future of writing.

Also the English-Literature and creative writing classes part was quite helpful.

Thank you!

Thank you!

Anna said...

Thank you for writing this! As someone who is very busy in academics, I always have to put aside my writing for each semester. I then write furiously in the summer and over Christmas break (which starts tomorrow for me after my last final!!!). So this was very helpful. :)

Also, I have a question: what makes a classic a classic?

Bookishqueen said...

I'm a current Anthropology Major (so no more writing classes for me!), with minors in Religion and Geography. While none help with the actual act of writing, I have found my classes help a lot with world building and character development. I have turned in a a few papers for these classes as short stories instead of essays (the teachers who let me do it always love them).

I am doing the 100 for 100 challenge with the Go Teen Writers blog my Jill Williamson and Stephanie Morril, which has kept me writing this semester (the hardest semester yet).

But I also teach Creative Writing to high schoolers and they have kept me thinking about new ways of looking at things for writing purposes.

Michelle Dyck said...

I find it interesting that the literature classes ended up being more beneficial than the creative writing classes. Do you think that was the case just with the college you went to, or with colleges in general? I'm contemplating what direction to take with further education, so this is something I'll keep in mind. :)

Anonymous said...

Just saying, your poetry is great/amazing.
Jemma

Emily Kopf said...

I know this is an old post, but thank you. As a college student contemplating changing to an English Lit major, this is extremely helpful.