Léna's Lit.Life

Léna (me): Lit, as in literature, Lit, as in light, Lit, as in a little kooky: Life.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why Teach Creative Writing?

A high school senior in Texas is writing a paper arguing that creative writing should be an elective in schools. Because I teach creative writing, he asked me for a quote in defense of that profession: why does it matter?

I could explain how creative writing is ridiculously empowering. It is. I see this on a daily basis. Some kids come to me already self-identifying as writers. Others are reluctant, whether stemming from learning differences or a lack of confidence. All are capable of finding their own unique voices, and by that developing and nurturing their inner lives. When kids feel that they matter, they become better grown ups who help others to feel that they matter too. They are happy, grateful and joyful. It's one of those beautiful tautologies that make the world go around. Creative writing brings joy.

Or I could explain how creative writing fosters critical thinking. Having a space where kids are encouraged to explore tangents of thought, to analyze structure and emotion, and to problem solve the biggest riddles of life…  that doesn't just help them grow as human beings, but also as students. Creative writing isn't just vomiting words on paper - it's a process of restructuring the world. Stories need characters with strong objectives and corresponding obstacles that stand in their way. Stories can be fantastical, silly, or dark, but they need rhythm and order, or they don't work. Creative writing broadens critical thinking.

Maybe instead I should explain how creative writing stokes and sustains literacy. What I observe as a teacher is that when kids feel their thoughts and feelings are read and understood, they are motivated to become more effective communicators. They inevitably care about the mechanics of their writing; you don't have to drag them to it. They become more careful readers as they learn what they like, and seek to emulate the best that's out there. They learn to ask deeper questions; not only the "what if?", but the "where?", "what?", "when?" and "why?". They fall in-love with the possibilities of language, as inventors and architects of grammatical, structural, psychological, and cultural landscapes. Creative writing is fundamental to excellence in literacy.

Those three things, joy, critical thinking, and literacy, are behind the core mission of Writopia Lab, the non-profit for which I work as a program manager and instructor. But maybe I'm too close to it. Maybe I'm just grasping at straws, wanting to justify my work. Maybe all of those reasons aren't enough. 

If so, then creative writing can matter because test scores need it, because college admissions officers are looking for it, and because eventual employers need it. After all, the thing any good teacher (or even the new standardized tests) want to see from students is a demonstrated ability to project themselves on the page. Tests are a place to showcase critical problem solving. And critical problem solving comes from the development of personal voice, which happens through creative writing. College admissions  are constantly looking for unique voices. They want the prospective collegian's voice to be palpable in their essay. They want enthusiasm, commitment, and joy. Then there's employers. Surely they don't care about creative writing. Right? Except when they want convincing proposals, briefs, research, and all of the other tangible demonstrations of a flexible mind.

When I teach creative writing, I'm coaxing kids into realizing and then remembering that they can and should always demonstrate their own personal voice on every page they write. Everyone who grades, appraises, accepts, and hires tacitly agrees with me.

So Ian, here is my quote for you: No writing is effective without a personal voice. And every reader wants that, whether they are a friend, a fan, a teacher, or an employer.