Many of us take for granted the fact that we can read and understand a newspaper article. Did you know that, according to a 2011 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 29% of adults in the United States don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at an eighth grade level?
In my creative writing course, I try to incorporate as many group writing exercises as possible. You may be thinking, “But isn’t writing a solitary act?” Writing can be both an individual and community effort. Two projects that my students particularly enjoy are the group novel and the class short story.
Imagine being asked to coach an Olympic swimming team. Even though you’ve taken swimming classes at the local Y and have splashed around a pool with your friends, you don’t know the first thing about Olympic-level swimming. That’s how many students feel when they’re asked to write an essay.
One of my students decided to compare and contrast the way I maneuver my pen to the way a ninja brandishes a sword. I admit that I do wield a certain flourish as I click the pen top and get ready to circle-underline-correct-suggest. I don’t like to think of my pen as an attack against the student, though.
In their final papers, many of my students admitted that they entered the semester with the notion that Intro. to Creative Writing would lead to an easy A and not require a lot of work. Well, they were surprised by assignments that were rigorous and demanding. Why do students expect creative writing to be so easy?
I asked my students to come up with a plan for the future of their writing lives. If they want to continue writing outside of class, how will they motivate themselves? What will inspire them? Where will they go to write? Who will they ask to read their work? Many of my students decided that forcing yourself to write just ruins the experience.
Yesterday, my students and I discussed literary magazines and their role in literary culture. I think my students were surprised by the broad range of subject matter that writers cover (a poem about photographing snakes, a story about drunk girls in stilettos, another poem about a burning Christmas tree) and how a magazine exists to suit every interest.
I tweet whenever the mood strikes and I have access to a Twitter application. I tweet when I’m planning my classes, when I’m writing, when I’m reading, when I’m at the grocery store, when I’m on the bus, and sometimes when I’ve been drinking a little too much. I hardly censor myself.
In order to be a great writer, you do have to write a “difficult” work. But what’s “difficult” is the subject matter, the relationships between the characters, and the emotional weight of the story. “Difficult” should describe the reader trying to get the work out of his or her head.
I don’t like grammatical errors, not because I’m a grammar snob – I’m the first to admit that I don’t know every single rule and nuance – but because poor grammar in a piece of writing interferes with my ability to read it. Grammar can be taught; if someone wants to learn grammar badly enough, that person can learn it.