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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Question about creative works in your WC

We're trying to put together a better method for working with creative writers in our center at Boise State--specifically short fiction/novel writers. Since those works normally need to be read in their entirety and we are limited to 30 min or 1 hour appointments, this is what we are considering doing: The student drops off their work; then, we'll block off 3o minutes or an hour to read and schedule a followup 30 minute appointment to go over the work. We'd also like them to fill out a checklist when they drop off their work, explaining what type of feedback they are looking for.

I'm wondering how other centers work with creative writers. Do you have a similar method or something different and how well does it work?

Thanks for any feedback.

6 comments:

  1. Ryan,

    If you have students drop off their work, then it might be hard to explain why they can’t do the same for a different assignment since there would still be a follow up afterwards. My opinion is that when this is done, then it becomes harder for the writing center to move away from the idea of being just an editing service. The writing center helps students mature as writers.

    At St. Thomas, we inform the student that we have 45 minutes (15 minutes of the rest of the hour is used for writing the post-session report, if needed) or an hour in the session. We then ask them what they want to accomplish during that time and write it down, which creates a POA (plan of action) for that session.

    What I have noticed is that we you do this it narrows down the scope of the session. Sometimes they have trouble with a certain section, but still want you to read everything. The POA gets the student to focus on that section now rather than later.

    I’ve had sessions with students who asked to go over their creative nonfiction piece and it wasn’t until the third page that they said, “See, this part I really need help with.” What you can do is ask for a general idea of the piece as a whole. Then ask them what has happened up until that part in the writing. This way you have an idea of the work you know the specific concern, and can start from there.

    Hope this helps.

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  2. Denise,

    I appreciate where you are coming from, but Ryan is specifically wanting advice on how to go about helping fiction and creative nonfiction writers with aspects of their work that go beyond the "I'm stuck on this paragraph" or "I need help with commas" requests. At the BSU Writing Center, where Ryan and I are consultants, we have writers asking for feedback on how their characterization is working, the feasibility of the plot, consistency of dialogue, and those sorts of things, and you can't really get a feel for how well a writer is doing with these aspects of their work unless you read the entire piece. And as you know, it's difficult, if not impossible, to read an entire short story or a chapter of a novel in a half an hour or an hour and also dialogue with the student about the work.

    Some have suggested to us that what we are trying to offer creative writers is the kind of feedback that they should be getting in workshops and workshop classes. And while it is true that they SHOULD be getting that sort of feedback in their workshops, we nonetheless have some creative writers coming to us for help because they feel that the workshop environment is too caustic and backstabbing in nature and is therefore ultimately unproductive, and these writers would like to get some constructive feedback from other readers and writers who are not merely fishing for workshop kudos and accolades.

    So the big question is this: is it even feasible for writing centers to help creative writers with getting this kind of feedback? And if so, we're wondering how other writing centers go about it. I see what you're saying, Denise, about how it might not seem fair to other writers if we make special allowance for creative writers to drop off their work ahead of time. But if that's not an option, what's the alternative?

    Michael

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  3. Boise State veteran here: I think it's a bad idea to make exceptions for creative writers or try to create a separate policy for "creative works." You do invite a student to try to "weazel" in other assignments.

    I'm not sure it's wise to even allow creative works to be submitted through the email system. At what point does a Consultant's feedback tread into the waters of "co-authorship"?

    I think creative works should be restricted to face-to-face sessions in the Center and the writer of the creative work MUST read his/her work, rather than the Consultant reading it. A lot of creative issues (tone, dialogue, scene, plot) can be *fixed* if the writer hears his own words. Besides, if a writer ever wants to be a creative writer, he/she has to get used to performing his/her work publicly anyway.

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  4. I agree with Bruce. I think it is a bad idea as well. The Writing Center is not an editorial service, nor is it a critiquing service. If an author wants his/her work to be critiqued, then he/she should seek out manuscript critics to go over it with a fine-toothed comb. I do know of a nonfiction writer's critique group in Boise: http://www.sageecosci.com/Writers.html. I am not familiar with any fiction critique groups, but that's not to say there aren't any.

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  5. Another side note: It has been my experience that once you make exceptions for one, others are going to want you to make exceptions for them. Let's say an author of creative works drops off his manuscript. Later that week, he tells his roommate that it is OK for him to drop off his Radiology paper at the Writing Center because they "make "exceptions." Need I say more?

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  6. Hi all,

    I've revisited this question and done some considerable research since my first post and would like to share a little about what I've found "works"--according to some other centers. Before I begin, thanks to everyone for the feedback. It wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, but it did drive me to more discovery. :)

    The drop off idea can be dangerous--I get that, but we must cater to creative writers. It is after all a "writing center"--a place for ALL writers. And to counter what was said earlier, the writing center IS a place for critiquing writing. The only way for writers to improve in their ability is to be critiqued--there is no difference between how to better creative and academic writing except by a critique.

    Here are a few ideas for working with creative writers that our center is considering based on what has worked for other centers:
    -a creative writing hour after the center closes (1-2x's a week). This would give writers the opportunity to share their work one-on-one or in a group environment. This also allows provides a venue for students who are not English majors to improve their own creative works (fiction, memoirs, poetry, etc.).
    -creative writing training for tutors by an MFA student of professor. This would strengthen the tutors' confidence for working with creative writers and help them better understand what to "look for."
    -an overall closer relationship between our English Majors Association, the MFA dept., and our writing center--more community. By closer relationship I mean more co-sponsored readings by students/faculty/local authors and frequent workshops.

    This is by no means a complete list, but a work-in-progress. We're excited about filling the creative writing gap in our center and will keep you posted on what does/doesn't work.

    -Ryan

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