Sunday, November 18, 2012

Think About How You Know What You Know

I've never taken a creative writing class.

Still, I consider myself a writer. A poet. A creative writer. If you ask me what I write, I'll probably say, "Poetry, mostly. Some prose...when I have time."

Don't get me wrong: I've taken plenty of writing courses. I have a degree in technical/professional communications; and I could probably write any number of informal essays, critical essays, or research papers in my sleep (although they probably wouldn't be very good...). I even make a little extra money from freelance technical writing...yet I tend to call myself a creative writer first. A poet.

And I've never taken a creative writing class.

This fact had never dawned on me until yesterday. This weekend I attended a writing festival at a nearby university. I go to writing festivals not just to learn new writing techniques, but also to get inspired and rejuvenated--to get the creative juices flowing. (Between work, grad school, and my on-the-side technical writing, my creative juices have all but dried up in the last few months.) It had been more than a month since I signed up for the workshops I would take this weekend, so it was kind of like opening a present when I checked in at Registration on Friday afternoon and received my personalized itinerary. Ah, yes. Not surprisingly, I had chosen a couple of poetry workshops--specifically, ones to help generate new ideas. But I also had chosen a workshop with the title "Creative Approaches to Teaching Grammar" and one called "The Overlap: Teaching Creative Writing and Developmental English."

As expected, I found inspiration from the poetry workshops and even wrote a couple of (still rough) new poems, but the two aforementioned workshops also proved delightfully beneficial for me--energizing me with information that I can use for a school project I will be working on intensely this week (since I have time off for the Thanksgiving holiday...and since I've been procrastinating way too much for the last two months...). I learned about a teaching strategy called RAFT, which lends itself nicely to my school project; and I learned about the fascinating similarities between teaching a creative writing class and teaching a developmental English class, both subjects that I am drawn to. (Literacy, in particular, is a subject I am passionate about; and my school project is about integrating reading and writing into teaching across the curriculum in order to develop fluent readers, writers, and critical thinkers.)

As I sat in the Creative Writing/Developmental English workshop, the realization that I had never taken a creative writing class hit me. I wondered: So, how did I learn creative writing? Why do I (or, even, how can I) consider myself a poet/a creative writer when my formal education has all been on the other side of the writing spectrum?

I started writing as soon as I was able to form sentence fragments (who are we kidding? I was five--I'm sure there were just as many fragments as sentences). At six, I declared I would be a writer. My first published "story" was a pleasant little number about how my dog threw up every time we took him for a ride in the car. I was in first grade, and my teacher "caught" me writing and asked if she could submit the piece to our elementary school "journal" (xeroxed pages stapled together, the desktop publishing of the early '80s). I went home and spent the evening revising and editing (I probably wrote three drafts!), thrilled out of my mind, adrenaline pumping. I can still feel the rush I felt, sitting at the dining room table, reading my piece over and over to my parents to make sure it was just right.

And I never stopped writing. I still have all the notebooks I filled throughout elementary school and junior high, story after story, unfinished novel after unfinished novel, splatterings of poetry. Since my early twenties, I've immersed myself in writing communities, have attended various writing festivals/workshops, have read about writing extensively; and now I, more or less, rightly or wrongly, consider myself to have a strong creative writing base of knowledge.

I've become a writer because I've written. I picked up tidbits along the way; I've learned from other writers. Apparently, I've learned by "doing" (proving John Dewey's theory?). One similarity (among several) between a student in a creative writing class and a student in Developmental English is that both will only improve their writing by writing. Good writing, bad writing, grammatically incorrect writing--it doesn't matter. Everyone has to start somewhere, and students learning to write--no matter what their interest or skill level--must write.

I was surprised to realize that I had never taken a formal creative writing class, the kind where the teacher grades you; but, in many ways, I sort of have--I've just stretched it out over many years (and will continue to stretch it out, as knowledge and improvement do not have an end point...), and I've done it a little more unconventionally than some (as I tend to do many things).

I think I'll give myself a B+.