Writing Centers strive to excel at consulting with every type of writing from business and scientific writing to English papers. However, many writing tutors struggle with consulting on creative writing. Many fear the creative writers and have dozens of questions and worries about a creative session. “How can I critique a piece like this?” “This has no rules or standard templates to work from. How can I give advice on what’s right or wrong?” “This isn’t my field and I have no knowledge of literary devices or how to critique creative writing.” “My fallback is always grammar and obviously the creative writer doesn’t need help with that area because they write all the time. They know this stuff.” “Who am I to judge their piece?”
Hans Ostrom discusses the uneasiness with creative writing in his article “Tutoring Creative Writers: Working One-to-One on Prose and Poetry.” He discusses how peer tutors are not alone in this uneasiness. He says, “… there are all sorts of literary experts in our midst who claim to be unable to respond to creative writing; they can make this claim with a straight face only because they are proceeding from the premise that creative writing is somehow not writing; if creative writing were in fact, writing, then, as literary experts, they would not seriously claim to be unable to say anything about creative writing.” He proposes that tutors must banish this idea of creative writing as not writing. They must focus on doing what they are trained to do: stay professional, focus on the writing (the draft), and throw the adjective “creative” out the window.
As creative writers ourselves, a fellow consultant and I decided to team up this past spring to help ensure that creative writers had another place to receive critique on their writing. We knew creative writers come in to our writing center occasionally, but certainly not on a regular basis. Through some informal research with some fellow creative writers, I found that many felt unsatisfied with their writing center experience when dealing with creative work. Many had failed to give the Writing Center another chance and those who did often found disappointment yet again. We quickly realized that to increase the number of creative writers and creative writing pieces coming into the Writing Center, we needed to help consultants feel more comfortable with creative writing sessions. We went to work on creating presentation consisting of tips for consulting on creative writing sessions.
We employed a number of tactics to prepare for the presentation including asking our creative writing friends for input on what change they wanted to see in the Writing Center. We also requested these friends to send in some of their work for consultation or come in for a face-to-face appointment to test the waters. We wanted to see how consultants reacted to the sessions. Did they enjoy them? Did they feel out of their element? How did they feel the session went? We also asked the clients to give us feedback on the session. Did they feel like the consultant addressed all of their concerns effectively? Did the consultant offer valuable feedback? Did the consultant feel like they made any progress from the session? From these two points, we were able to structure the presentation in a way that would allow us to easily teach the points that creative writers wanted out of creative writing sessions at the Writing Center. The results of this presentation will be discussed in a later blog.
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I have posted a poll in the IWCA forums: IWCA Forum: Peer Tutor => What do we call ourselves: the poll! It is a part of an earlier discussion that kind of petered out about the titles used for writing center workers. Please take a moment and vote! If you don't have an account on the forum, you can register for one by clicking on the "Register" link (next to the rocket icon in the top-right of the page.) Don't forget to state your institutional affiliation when you request and account. (That's how the IWCA Forum keeps out spam accounts.)
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