Monday, July 14, 2014

Value in teaching creative writing?

I know many colleagues disagree with me when I say I believe there is no value in "teaching" creative writing and lessons devoted to creative writing are not a good use of limited instructional time. Before you leave me and go to the next blog, please allow me to explain. I take this position because I do not believe creativity can be taught.

Writing skills can and should be taught, and taught through formal-writing strategies. Chief among these are planning skills and what I call "tidy writing". The former refers to the structure of the writing, such as the beginning / middle / end of a novel, or the timeline, or the development (and consistency) of a character.  Planning also involves what to put in and what to leave out. Relevancy and irrelevancy may be the most important planning skill after structure.

The latter includes the Use of English, such vocabulary and grammar, maintaining voice or point of view, and effective paragraphing. Typically one word is better than two such as the single-word equivalent of a phrasal verb.

Analysis of others' writing and critical response should be taught. Students should encounter good writing and understand what it is that makes it good.

Editing skills should be taught, although my planning and tidy writing would obviate the need for much editing.

I do believe that creative writing should be practiced. Students should be given opportunities to practice the skills of writing taught above, for example through writing stories, poems, narratives and so on. However, these should be exercises as extensions to the above lessons and not lessons in and of themselves.

Finally, and as a logical corollary of the above, students' creative writing should not be graded. A teacher may legitimately say as a reader s/he likes or dislikes a piece, with appropriate explication and use of examples. However, a grade presupposes a continuum from correct to incorrect and that the grader is a legitimate arbiter. For a creative work, this is simply inappropriate.

The skills of writing, the Use of English, analysis, transmission of response, editing and so on can and must be taught. My students write well creatively, many have been published, because I teach them to write formally. The opposite simply does not apply.

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