February 16, 2012

Creative Writing Classes: What's Holding Me Back

Writing Forward is one of my go-to blogs for tips on creative writing. It's a well of information, so please check it out. Today, I popped over to read Five Things I Learned in Creative Writing Class. You know you're inspired by a post when you leave such a long comment you might as well have written your own post.

Which brings me back here. My gut reaction after reading the post was to scour the Internet in search of a creative writing class. I've been feeling a bit uninspired lately. What better way to spark inspiration than a class, right?

Then I remembered why I've hesitated to take a creative writing class or pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. Subjectivity.

I've taken a few writing classes and many English courses in college. For the most part, teachers were impressed and encouraging. It's a big boost to your self-confidence to have a teacher who believes in you, nurtures your work. I've also had experience with critical teachers, but even then most of them thought I had potential and pushed me.

Enjoying a writing piece is very subjective. I review books for several sites and on my own review blog, Mom in Love with Fiction. I completely understand, and often note, that a lot of things play into how I rate a book. It could be my mood, my taste, or even the week I'm having. Reviews are opinions, and I don't pretend to have some exclusive formula for never being wrong.

My mother decided to pursue a college degree when my baby sister started school. Thanks to multiple moves and constantly losing credits, she ended up graduating a semester after I did. Toward the end, she had a teacher who hated her writing. No bones about it, he just didn't like her style. She was discouraged and asked for my help.

Mom and I have very different writing styles. It's one of the reasons we wrote a book together... we knew our voices were distinct. Mom asked me to write her next assignment. We both read the book and discussed themes, but I was going to write it. My style. I wrote the paper, Mom got an A.

As an aside, can I just tell you how rewarding it was to write a paper for my mom and get her an A? It was payback for all the times she helped me with science projects.

We are all going to come across someone who doesn't like our work. I'm okay with that. Actually, I believe you learn more from negative reviews than positive ones. I want to grow as a writer, so I want honesty.

But I don't want to take a class and have someone just hate my work. I'd like to think I could figure out the teacher's wants and comply, but is that helping me as a writer or preparing me for a career in psychology?

I do believe the advantages to taking a writing class outweigh the potential disadvantage of a teacher blinded by his/her own opinion. But it does make me hesitate.

Have you come across a teacher/mentor who didn't like your work? Did it discourage you from your desired goal?


Hildred Billings said...

Slightly tangential, but I was talking with a friend today who is currently in a screenwriting class, and she was lamenting the fact that 1) all they do is share work and never even get any instruction and 2) the instructor is all about being a "bad editor" - basically, telling her and everyone else how HE would do things, and even telling her how one of her characters felt about something. And he encourages the other students to "critique" in the same manner. Oh. Okay.

I guess it could be kinda like that. We want instructors who will help us, not write our crap for us. We want instructors who, even if they're not necessarily into what we write from a stylistic or contextual level, want us to do our best anyway and constantly push ourselves. Good CW instructors are able to set aside their preferences to help their students be the best they can be.

I took a CW class in college and it was wonderful, even though everyone handed my ass to me from all directions. Well, I still don't agree with much of what they said (it was mostly stylistic, and I've always been the odd one there) but the atmosphere was just so what I needed. I definitely recommend it if you get a chance.

Sabrina said...

As a creative, there's a thin line between helpful and harmful. I'm just now "showing up" for feedback but it only happened after I worked hard to find my own voice and got pass the fear of doing things wrong. To me, it sounds like you've also conquered those two fears so a CW class might be a good idea if you view it as the next step. For me, I need to expand my knowledge in the fiction arena.

Thanks for the link, I'll have to check out that site!

Tia Bach said...

I know. I need to take a class. It's been too long. And I do think my writing confidence has grown enough to not be overly affected by someone who simply does not like my voice.

Thanks to you both for stopping by and commenting. It's so appreciated!

Eloise said...

I had back-to-back creative writing classes in college. First instructor liked my work, second instructor did not.

I think that when someone does not like your style, they should respect it, particularly if that person is in a mentoring role. I think Hildred said it well - that good instructors are able to set aside their preferences to help students be the best they can be.

I've thought about taking CW classes too. If I found myself in a class with an instructor who was unhelpful in the sense that he/she simply did not like my style, and did not give good constructive criticism, that I would drop the class. I don't like quitting things, but I'm not sure if sticking with it under those circumstances would be worth the angst. At this point in life, I'm not committed in the sense that I'm taking the class for a degree.

I'm all for criticism and critiquing, as long as it's useful and there is a fair exchange going on.

Jenn said...

Hi, I've stopped by to let you know you've been tagged, from a fellow Platform Campaigner. :)


Also, I've never took a creative writing class in college, but from what I've heard from others who have, they tend to teach a more literary style and not commercial. I, personally, don't want to learn that way. I also am not comfortable working with someone who A. doesn't understand or at least know my genre, and B. feels it's okay to try and change my style. That doesn't show me he/she is a good teacher. I have several crit partners, and it's one thing to not be into what they're writing, and another to want to change their voice to suit my tastes. :)

Good luck!

Arlee Bird said...

Followed your link from the A to Z Blog. Worked great! So easy to find your blog that way.

I haven't taken any creative writing classes since college many years ago. They can be helpful and fun, but I think I've learned more through blogging.

Wrote By Rote
An A to Z Co-host blog
Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Margo Kelly said...

My English 101 professor hated my writing. *sigh* He made me cry. But I'm tougher now. :)

Tia Bach said...

Eloise, I agree. I'm all for constructive criticism, but I don't need constant negative thoughts.

Jennifer, Thanks for tagging me. I answered the ?'s today! I agree about critiquing. Anyone editing your work should want your voice to shine through.

Thanks, Arlee.

Margo, Here's to being stronger now. *raises wine glass*