Concerns About “Creative Writing”
– Ann Loseva
Eight years ago I was studying German as a second foreign language at the teacher training university I later graduated from. I remember writing a two-stanza poem in German as homework once. My task was to include irregular (strong) verb forms, and so I composed the most ridiculous and meaningless poem ever. Luckily the endings so conveniently and effortlessly rhymed. I didn’t feel creative or victorious over the language then. I still don’t know why forceful poetry writing should necessarily be seen as practising creative writing, and I hope all poetry lovers can excuse me for saying that. My skepticism extends beyond just poems to the notion of creative writing in general.
Ironically, the likely arguable truth that I’m currently preaching to my students and myself is that writing is a panacea. Writing helps systematize thoughts and then express them more clearly in speaking. Writing helps us process reading better. Writing to me is about the most consuming activity, demanding real and serious brain effort. Seeing the words pouring out of your pen or keyboard is getting evidence of what relationship with a language you have. No wonder these two terms my students have been faced with a lot of writing tasks. There’s been no label “creative” for any of these tasks, though, mostly because I’m doubtful these tasks have been creative. My doubts originate from the unobvious and controversial meaning of the word creative — which seems to bother me quite a bit these days. Those concerns run along these lines:
- If creative stands for something that is out of the box, then I can’t help mentioning that what’s out of the box for each and every single student, for me, for any teacher is different. What are (or are there any) measuring guidelines and thresholds for creative writing?
- What is supposed to be seen and valued as creative – form, content, viewpoint, a combination of these?
- If creativity is about expressing your individual perspective, is an opinion essay an example of creative writing?
- Is a student who articulates his/her opinion concisely in 2 sentences less creative than a mate writing up a whole page on the same idea?
- Are there any level priorities? Will my students of a very low level and limited skills to construct sentences be devoid of this opportunity to write up something creative?
There’s a student I teach who turns upside down every simplest writing task. None of his sentences, following the most elementary of patterns, is ever serious or matches the task completely. Answering questions, completing sentences, rephrasing – he always puts his own spin to the task, he plays with the language to make us laugh, to seem ridiculous, to always be different. There’s a lot about how English works that this student has yet to learn. Still, it’s amazing how he can be that smart and free with the language while apparently having very basic and vague understanding of it. I can imagine that for some teachers his attempts to draw attention through his linguistic experiments would seem sheer nonsense, but to me this is an understanding of where his kind of creativity stems from.
In fact, do individual and original equal creative? How do I measure the originality of a learner of a foreign language when I stuff their heads with the same vocabulary items and grammar patterns? Some students may not have the language feel and extensive vocabulary, and yet are very concise in linguistic expression.
Another student of mine, a shy boy, a hardworking but not well performing learner, made a presentation. He’d prepared his text well and learnt it by heart. He couldn’t connect words to make up grammatically correct replies to his group-mates’ questions afterwards. But the captions to the photos on his slides were unforgettable. The presentation entitled “The dark side of tourism” featured such dark sides on slides as “Mosquitos. Mites. Bears.” and “Fire. Wood. Firewood.” This is creative writing, if you ask me.
What else is creative writing? When I run thin on ideas, I turn to my students for inspiration and insights, and most often I get what I look for. Two groups of students, all of them majoring in Physics, took my call seriously and answered (in what was not “creative writing” form) the following question: What does “creative writing” mean to you?
Here are some of their thoughts – which served as both proof and revelations on the topic for me and opened up a range of perspectives on what can be considered creative writing. It’s also my belief that they wrote these lines somewhat creatively.
Creative writing is constantly searching for words and expressions, the process of exploring the language and its potential.
Creative writing is conscious rule breaking.
Creative writing means crossing the borders of the task. It’s like feeling that you can do more than will satisfy you and make people really get into your work. For example, this task (answering the question) wasn’t done with creativity. Come remake everything as tiny ideas visualize in thoughts *of* yours.
Usual writing is something that a writer has to do, but creative writing is something that a writer wants to do, he’s interested in what he writes.
Creative writing is such type of writing where we can see some personality of a writer. It may be a special way of expressing thoughts or use of specific terms. It also may be the introduction of new concepts, for example copyright neologisms.
Creative writing means that I don’t cheat on it and don’t use a template.
And finally, an indirect proof that I’m no creative writing teacher: I think creative writing is a composition. I don’t like this, it’s difficult for me to express my thoughts, especially in English, of course this should be studied. I am not sure I’ll be glad if this activity appears in our classes.
As you might have already guessed, I don’t seem to teach much creative writing. I hope I’m doing my best to make my students see that they can write in English and cope with the challenges I give them. “Trying” for creative language output seems self-deluding and unfairly demanding of students. However, there are learners who keep amazing me by causing me to question my aversion to … poem writing. A couple of days ago during a brainstorm of ideas for our final class with postgraduate Physics students, one of the first ideas that came up to them was to write a scientific poem together.
Next week I’m going to teach creative scientific poetry writing. Never say never.
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