The three projects in this course are designed to work together. You have a reading project, which is focused on helping to cultivate a lifelong love of reading. You have a writing project, which is designed to help you apply your reading experiences to the craft of shaping your own writing. And you have a self-awareness project, at the end, which gathers up all these threads and gives you an opportunity to reflect upon them.
The middle piece is the writing project. This is a creative writing class, and as you’d expect, there’s some writing involved. In fact, all the projects are writing projects. But this middle project — the writing project — is your opportunity to write a creative narrative. You can write about anything you want. Writing is writing, and I am much more interested in helping you to find creative freedom in your writing than I am in building a structure into which you must fit.
Your writing project will take a particular shape and will explore specific themes. These are completely up to you. The subjects and themes and directions of your writing should come from you. They should emerge from your own deep personal interest in topics of your own choosing and the readings that you are doing.
Try no to worry too much about how skilled you might be as a writer. If you want to improve your writing, take a look at the resources on skill development. I’ve provided quite a bit of material about how to improve.
Writing is a somewhat mysterious and unpredictable process. Sometimes a writer starts something and then finds it going in a completely different direction. Sometimes you have a very clear idea about what you’d like to say – but when you start to say it, it evolves and transforms into something else. This might happen to you. And, if it does, don’t worry about it. Follow the creative process and see where it leads.
This is a habit that professional writers use all the time. For example, many novelists don’t map out the plot of a novel in advance. They might have some idea about what happens in the novel, a general direction perhaps, but when they start writing – inhabiting characters, fleshing out scenes –the work takes on a life of its own. It goes in its own direction: characters push and prod the narrative this way or that.
And so, it’s important not to think about this writing project for our class as being something that you want to map out completely. Normally, when you write an essay in an academic environment, you might develop an outline first. And that’s fine, if you want to do that for this project. But the skills that you would use in regular academic essay writing do not often translate well into a more creative context. Yes, we are writing – but in this course there is another word before the word writing, which is creative: creative writing. And creative writing is a different animal. Most of the enduring and impactful literature in the world– books that people love to read, generation after generation –that stuff is creative writing. And, as you may know, it has many, many forms.
So, I’m not worried too much about the form that this project takes, how long it is, and so on. I am not interested in placing you inside a box to demonstrate to me what kind of writing you can do. As usual with projects for this course (and for all the courses that I teach), my interest is in turning it around, so that you are responsible for your own creativity. It’s your creativity.
Find your own voice, and take the time to build this project over the course of several writing sessions. Don’t write it the night before it's due! Be attentive to how you feel about what you’re writing. These are the kinds of considerations that go into a decent creative writing project. Don’t worry about genres, which have no real meaning in the modern literary landscape. So much of contemporary writing is a mix of fiction, nonfiction, magic realism, poetry, screenwriting, whatever. Don’t worry about it. Write something that’s interesting and important to you.
My goal is to provide an open creative space for you to follow your creativity wherever it leads. If you get stuck, or if you need help, or if you want some feedback at any point – let me know. I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can. Keep going. See what happens. Follow the path.
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 — especially on a public platform such as this. 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.
Beyond your own chosen book(s) from the reading project, you can read various example narratives in the Readings area. In particular, The Jasper Queen, The World Tree, Creativity and the True Teacher, and Lamplighters are particularly focused on the relationship between the inner life (the self) and the wider world. The difficulty with examples such as these 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.
I have also provided a thorough tutorial about the history and character of self-reflection narratives: The Art & Craft of the Personal Essay. This tutorial will provide you with a general overview of the genre (which tends to defy genres) and some practical tips and suggestions to apply to your own work.
Creating the Page
This is the second project for which you will create a page. Use the same method as the first time: login, create a page, give it a title, and save it. If you prefer, you can compose your narrative in a word processor or text editor first, then copy and paste it into Wagtail. This method is probably easier than writing the entire narrative in Wagtail, and it might offer the secondary benefit of peace of mind that you have a copy of your narrative on your own computer. When you are ready to submit this project, click "Submit to Instructor for Review."