Due to the rush around the beginning of the semester, I was unable to conduct an interview for Digital Beards this week. However, preparations for my own Creative Writing Workshop have given me something else to address. Namely, the most unique aspect of the course: my students’ fictional blogs.
Last year on iDesign, I wrote about how I wanted to have students use hoax personae as a means of actively contributing to the misinformation of the internet, and, hopefully, learn from the experience (while, of course, they learned a little something about storytelling). On my own blog, where the post also appeared, a couple commenters criticized my decision to encourage students in this way. One of the fears expressed, for instance, was that some prospective employer would google one of my students, down the road, and find the blog’s “deception” offensive.
As the class hadn’t even started yet, it was difficult to defend my curriculum with anything other than theoretical arguments. Very few people were going to encounter the blogs, much less read them; and, simply showing students how to tell stories to the Internet doesn’t turn them into little David-Rose-Factories. I merely felt, strongly, that it would work out.
Having conducted two semesters of the exercise at this point, I am very happy with the work my students have posted to their blogs, but I am also changing some things.
I am happy because I prompted an ongoing conversation about the boundary between fiction and nonfiction, which, regardless however clear the distinction is for some, is a vital and generative debate that continues to reveal new relevance in our communication/story/identity/fact obsessed age. We talked about catfishing, and Emily Dirr, as well as the fascinating tension (which is building? which is not building?) between journalistic integrity and artistic interpretation in non-fiction. Also, the blog platform “published” the student work as soon as they were done writing it, thus engaging them with a wider audience than they would find, simply, in the classroom. Students were very imaginative on their blogs, too, perhaps more so than in their stories (maybe because blogs feel less formal than papers? I don’t know), one character taking a trip to Mars on an art fellowship, another using the blog to post letters to his estranged daughter, who may or may not be reading them.
However, I had wanted the blogs to be a place where students wrote long-form, and that sort-of piddled out. The way I developed the course before, the blogs were an interesting but ancillary activity, and there was only enough time for students to write around 3,000 words for them. That is pretty good, but not all that much more than the 2,000 they write for their workshop pieces.
So, this semester, I will set aside the entire month of November for my students to spend writing. No reading, no revising. Writing 2,000 words a week, approximately a page a day, the students will finish the month of November having written a novelette (7,000+ words!). I think that’s pretty cool, and I think it’s also valuable, for a change, to focus on writing as opposed to revising. When I left undergrad, I remember how hard it was for me to just write. My stuff looked nothing like the stuff I’d just spent years studying. I had no relationship to my own work. I didn’t even want to read my own work. Not that the traditional model for a workshop is flawed, simply that it can affect more growth in criticism than in story-craft. Hopefully, focusing them on the act of writing will help balance students on this spectrum.