You are telling a story, about yourself, every day. It’s a story about what you believe, what you like and dislike, how you will act, what you will say (or not say), and who you are. You are a character in your own story of your life. Some of that story has been told to you by others: the scenes of your birth and early childhood, the chapters about your family history and cultural background. Much of the story is framed around defining moments and specific situations that have shaped you. The story moves forward incrementally, each day, as new things happen and your life unfolds. But it’s the same story. You don’t suddenly, one day, become a new person. No, all the details of the story – the good parts and the bad – carry forward with you as you move through life. Maybe you have tried to change the story a bit, or correct parts of it that you don’t like, or write a new chapter after a difficult period. Maybe you thought you were one kind of person and you find yourself slowly becoming someone else. Maybe you’re challenging the story, seeing how much of it you can revise and rewrite.
And what about the other characters in your story? Your family and friends, the people in your neighborhood, your compatriots at school. That strange guy you see at Starbucks once in a while. The kids in the park. Your boss at work. The friendly lady on the bus. Characters, right? All characters in this story that you are both living and telling.
The story has an arc. It’s going somewhere. Where?
For the writing project, your job is to choose a single scene, from the story of your life, and write that scene in a creative way. The course readings offer many examples of what this might look like.
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 a scene from the story of your life) 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 a scene from the story of your life – a meaningful, interesting scene – how many words would it take you to describe it fully? How much detail would you need to include about the environment of the scene, the characters, the emotions, the mood, the atmosphere, the colors, and so on? More than a hundred? For sure. Five hundred? More, probably. More than a thousand? Probably. How long are significant scenes in books? More than a couple of pages? For sure. More than ten pages? Maybe not that much. See how it goes.
As the author Lee Child likes to say, “write the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow.” As you write your scene, think about slowing things down, so that you take the time to immerse the reader in what you are seeing in your imagination. The reader does not see into your mind. You need to take all those images and moments that you are trying to express and describe them in words, so that the reader is able to reconstruct, through the magic of reading, all the details that appear to you as you visualize this scene.
Take your time. Show the scene. Don’t write an essay! And don’t worry about whether your scene is a complete story. It’s not; it’s just a single scene. 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 assignment over the course of a week or two, in several shorter writing sessions of maybe an hour each. That should do it.
Your scene will be based on an actual, real-world experience from the story of your life. At the same time, you may wish to add imaginary elements. Feel free to include dreams, speculations about alternate realities, and fictional elements. Please do not be concerned about genres or whether your scene is completely accurate from a historical point of view. The distinctions between literary genres are entirely arbitrary and do not have any real meaning. Fictional narratives are inspired by the real world, and nonfictional narratives always contain fictional elements (as memory is informed by the imagination). Poetic narratives can be prose-like, and prose can be poetic. Mythic narratives are probably the best examples of narratives that are both fictional and nonfictional at the same time. They are both false and true, and much of their power derives from this seamless contradiction. Don’t worry about these details. Just write.
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. And, naturally, one way to get unstuck is to review the skill tutorials, which are designed to take you from the very beginning of the creative process all the way through to the completion of a project.
The writing project is worth 30 percent of your grade and is provisionally due at the end of week 8. For details about how this project is evaluated, please review the guidelines on assessment & evaluation.
A Note of Caution
You can write about anything you want. But please consider that 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, to others in the class, 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.
I have provided three example narratives for you to review in preparation for this project. These narratives were written by me and have been published in various places. They offer a glimpse into the kinds of themes I would write about in a project such as this. However, the challenge with such examples is that they might suggest to you a right or correct way to complete this project — the instructor's way. Please be aware of this difficulty and remember to create a project that is uniquely yours.
Ask for Feedback (or not; up to you)
Please remember to ask for feedback if you want it. If you do not ask for feedback, you will not receive feedback. For further details, please review the feedback page. You will see on the feedback page that feedback is a recirpocal process; it requires reflection and consideration. Appending a single sentence to the end of your project with the words “feedback please” is not asking for feedback.
Not everyone wants feedback. Some learners just like to see a grade. That is a completely reasonable approach and you will not be penalized for taking that approach. See the feedback page for details.