This class is focused on the creative process. How can we deepen and connect with our creativity? How can we build creative skill? How can we think about what it means to be a creative person? You’ve been doing some readings about these themes, and you’ve been doing some weekly creative activities. And now you’re going to do some writing.

And, of course, the writing for this class is largely about creativity. What is your relationship to your creative process? How do you feel about your own creative work? What has been your personal experience during your lifetime, with creative practices in writing or whatever? Creativity is everywhere. It’s an element of pretty much every human activity. You might have had some wonderful creative experiences, and also some potentially challenging creative experiences. This writing project is about those experiences, then and now. The overarching theme is your relationship to your creativity. It’s an opportunity for you to reflect on that relationship, to think about what it means, where it’s going, and how you feel about it –and, ultimately, what you want your creative experience to be as a person.

I don’t have specific required guidelines about the kinds of things I want you to say in this project. It’s your project. You can go in any direction you like. You could write about your relationship to a particular kind of creativity such as writing, music, photography, sculpture, dance, sport, or whatever you like. You could write about experiences you’ve had in the past that have shaped your creativity in various ways. You could write about your plans for the future in terms of your creative work. Do you want to build creative skill in a particular area? And if so, what would that look like? And how do you envision that going? How would you prepare for it? What kinds of habits or skills would you need to further develop to move in that direction? Those kinds of things.

This is a personal project. It’s not an academic essay. Above all, don’t write an academic essay! You’re not trying to prove or demonstrate anything to me. This project is a personal essay, and this may be the first time in your academic career (or one of the first times) that you’ve been asked to write something like this. Doing so is a creative skill like any other. But writing a personal essay about a particular topic can be quite challenging if you haven’t done so before. So, here are a couple of suggestions.

Read the Guide

I have provided an extensive guide to the personal essay. It includes a discussion of (and links to) several notable examples as well as a thorough consideration of the basic elements of the form. Check it out. Click through and read the examples. By doing this you will follow through on what I’ve been emphasizing all semester: reading the various forms of writing is the best pathway to skill development in writing. The personal essay is one of the most established forms of creative writing. It has made a huge impact on history and culture. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a personal essay. Annie Dillard’s Seeing is a personal essay. Wole Soyinka’s Why Do I Fast? is a personal essay. Adrienne Rich’s Split at the Root is a personal essay. As far back as Seneca and Plutarch, through the emergence of modern thought with writers such as Montaigne and Thoreau, to thoroughly modern contributions from Virginia Woolf, Goerge Orwell, James Baldwin, Carlos Fuentes, Lu Hsun, Jorge Luis Borges, and many others, the personal essay is an archetypal art form. (If you don’t recognize the authors or examples I’ve just used, don’t worry about it. Literature is big.)

The guide shows the basics. Use it.

Review the Skill Tutorials

I have created a number of tutorials for improving writing skill. These are designed to coach you from the very beginning of the writing process and all the way through. Check them out.

Write Personally and Authentically

Write in the first person: I feel, I believe, I know, I experienced, I remember. Don’t worry about making an argument or drawing conclusions. Just write how you feel. Take the project in any direction you want. As I’ve said at various points, the approach to education that we take in this class is almost the reverse of what you normally get in academia. I’m interested in encouraging you to take responsibility for the learning process. Rather than proving to me that you fulfilled criteria established by me, I’m asking you to think about important criteria for you. What does your creative learning look like? How do you take responsibility for it, for going deeper, for thinking more purposefully and mindfully about the nature and meaning of your educational pathway?

Our approach to this class is very personal, and this is a personal project. Ultimately, it’s simply about your relationship to your creative process. That’s all. If you get stuck, or if you’re not sure what to do, or if you get partway through and then you get stuck, feel free to reach out and I'll be happy to help in any way that I can.

Details and Process

This is a straightforward project. And yet, many people struggle with it because I am not telling you exactly what to do. Instead, I am suggesting a direction you might go (write about your relationship to the creative process) and I am encouraging you to follow it wherever it may lead. I don’t know where it will lead; neither do you. In the study of creativity there’s a hifalutin’ word for this process: the liminal space, or liminal zone. Or liminality. The area of uncertainty, ambiguity, and perhaps even disorientation. The place of edges and peering over them.

The description of this assignment is supposed to be vague. That’s the point. All the assignments are like this. It’s your path, your creative journey. You need to follow it (or not) to where it takes you.

How long should it be? Good question. How long do you think? If you consider your relationship to the creative process, how many words would it take you to describe it fully? How much detail would you need to include about your thoughts, feelings, and insights? More than a hundred? For sure. Five hundred? More, probably. More than a thousand? Probably. How long are the examples I’ve provided? More than a couple of pages? For sure. More than ten pages? Maybe not that much. See how it goes.

Take your time. Work your way through it one word at a time. It’s impossible to do this well the night before it’s due. If you rush through, then you will probably not be happy with the result. Instead, write this project over the course of a week or two, in several shorter writing sessions of maybe an hour each. That should do it.

And a word of caution: any subject that is challenging for you to talk about openly (such as personal trauma) is a subject you should probably not write about. On the other hand, powerful personal experiences often provide excellent source material for writing, so it may be difficult for you to decide what to do. First, please use your judgment about how best to keep yourself emotionally safe within and beyond the classroom. Second, please discuss your plans (or your concerns) with me if you decide to write about personal or provocative subjects. In particular, be cautious of subjects involving violence, abuse, trauma, death, mental illness and related themes (whether they happened to you, happened to someone else, or are imagined). These subjects reliably activate strong emotions and are often unsafe if not handled properly. While no subject is absolutely off-limits in this class, there are many subjects for which there is a risk of harm to you, to me, or to our shared communities. We must be respectful and careful of ourselves and our relationships with others. Please ask me for guidance if you are uncertain.

Double spaced? Single spaced? Written with a chisel on a stone tablet? Up to you.

If you get stuck with this assignment, feel free to reach out to ask questions. But really, getting stuck is part of the process. Getting unstuck is how you activate your creativity.

The writing project is worth 40 percent of your grade and is provisionally due at the end of week 8.