Creative writing, for most people, including myself, is a passion. We use creative writing to express the deepest parts of ourselves, and to demonstrate the ways in which we see the world. Creative writing, as a work of art, can take on the form of a poem, a short story, a play, etc., but most importantly, as Hans Ostrom describes “creative writing is writing” (Ostrom 148).
Additionally, Bonnie Devet points out that “consultants often feel intimidated by fiction writers” (6). However, despite the fear that surrounds tutors working with creative writers, and the fear that creative writers have of putting their work out for critique, we all need to remember this simple fact: Creative writing should not be put into a completely separate category from the other types of writing reviewed at a Writing Center, because it is simply another genre, another subject. Business majors and art majors do not use the same type of writing to convey their ideas, and neither do creative writers. Essentially, all writing should be viewed in a similar way, and we can bring some of the same strategies and tools we use with other writing to creative writing, as well as some new ones.
When I first started tutoring at the Writing Center, I didn’t feel that I had the right tools to help with creative writing assignments. During my first semester as a writing center tutor, a student came to me with a written piece from his Intro to Creative Writing class. Even though I am a Creative Writing major, I was anxious and intimidated to begin the session. I did not want to walk over anyone’s creative piece, and that made me cautious. As a creative writer, I understand how much courage it takes to write a creative piece and to show it to someone. Getting negative feedback can be very discouraging. Therefore, throughout the session, we mostly worked on minor issues with quotations, word choice, and verb tense, but we did not touch upon the elements of a story.
I felt that the typical “tools” that I was used to using in sessions did not really apply as well to this situation. Usually, I will read the paper out loud, or have the student read it, and ask leading questions about organization and other elements of the paper, and wait for the student to respond. I let them guide us through the appointment. Although many of these tools could help the student with more of the grammatical and sentence level aspects of the creative writing assignment, it does not always help them with character development or plot. Even though the student left feeling better about the writing of his story, I felt that he still could have taken it much further and developed it better.
Currently, I am in an Advanced Creative Writing Fiction seminar, which is my first real experience in intense workshop and revision of creative writing. When we workshop someone’s piece, the atmosphere is very similar to that of the Writing Center. Someone will read their story out loud, and then we will discuss our favorite moments and language in the piece, what was believable or not believable, and if the piece began and ended in the right place. I find that addressing these issues is unbelievably helpful in my own writing, and I think it can help provide a good set of questions and strategies to use for students in the Writing Center with creative pieces.
After the first read-through of a creative piece, it can be helpful if the tutor points out words/phrases and specific language that was strong throughout the piece. Not only does this help the student’s confidence and ease their fear in bringing their creative work, but it shows them where their strengths are, so they can then focus on what they need to improve on. Ostrom also suggests this technique in his article, and explains the importance of this in detail when he writes: “Writers need to know what they have done well as much as they need to know what isn’t working, but often readers reflexively begin by saying what they think is ‘wrong’ with a piece. Telling a writer what works is not a matter of being polite; it’s really useful” (153).
When having a student read their piece out loud, they can usually pick up on some minor mistakes with grammar and the flow of their language. However, with creative writing, students can also use this technique for working out the believability of their piece; for example, with characters’ dialogue. A tutor could ask the student: “How does this dialogue sound out loud? Does it sound believable for the character?” If characters in a piece are given certain characteristics and a specific background, their dialogue needs to be a reflection of that. The tutor and student could role-play the characters’ conversation to determine the believability of the language.
Another technique can be used to help with the organization of the creative piece. Sometimes, a piece does not begin in the right place. A tutor can help the student discover where it should begin by asking them a question such as: “Where does the action really start happening?” If they can help the student locate where the piece picks up and begins the real conflict of the story, they can then suggest/ask them: “What if you started the story there?” Strategies such as this can also be used to help the student figure out if the story ends in the right place.
Overall, creative writers and non-creative writers should not be afraid of creative writing. Especially in the Writing Center, we should feel comfortable and able to talk about any type of writing. Although creative writing is different, it is not as different as people think. As Devet explains, helping creative writers gives Writing Centers “a chance to offer these special writers a place to receive a skilled, fresh reaction to their short stories” (6). Students will still benefit from our feedback, comments, and discussion about their work; it just might need to be done in a slightly different way to be more effective.
Devet, Bonnie. “Training Writing Lab Consultants to Help Fiction Writers.” The Writing Lab Newsletter, Vol. 30, No. 5 (Jan. 2006), 6 – 9.
Ostrom, Hans. “Tutoring Creative Writers: Working One-to-One on Prose and Poetry.” Creative Approaches to Writing Center Work. Eds. Kevin Dvorak and Shanti Bruce. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 2008. 147 – 157. Print.