Today I am thinking about peer critiquing in the creative writing classroom. One of my former students has generously given me permission to use his work as a sample for future students. I am planning to draft a sample “student” critique to share with this semester’s students as a model for the type of feedback they should provide to one another. To focus myself, I went back to The Practice of Creative Writing to skim the chapter called “Reading to Write.” That’s when I stumbled into this quote:
“Many, many famous writers have said they learned to write creatively not by attending classes, but by reading.” (27)
I have heard this type of statement before, and I always find it frustrating. While I probably learned to write creatively as a child from my avid reading habit, I would be nowhere without all of the teachers I have worked with at various points in my life. Attending creative writing classes has been a source of focus and discipline for me that I could not provide for myself.
When I read work that I enjoy, I lose all sense of time and space inside the pages of the book or manuscript. Great writing does not automatically or easily stimulate my analytical brain, my learning brain. Great writing, for me, is an escape: the original “staycation.”
Actually, when I read writing that I find disagreeable for some reason, then I begin to learn about what works and what does not. Theoretically, I could sit around studying books I do not like and learn a ton all by myself. But I really don’t like to read books that I don’t like. If I don’t have to read them, I just stop. And, for some reason, I rarely analyze readings and apply critical thinking when I am not asked to.
For this reason, I have always found writing workshops to be invaluable. In the workshop, I don’t have the option to ignore writing that doesn’t appeal to me. And, when reading wrioting I really enjoy, I read more thoughtfully and I reread multiple times to develop my understanding of it better.
While some writers may be able to teach themselves everything they need to know from reading, it is perfectly fine for others to join the workshop and learn through analysis and discussion of published works–especially really hard ones–and the (developing) works of others in the group.
I am looking forward to teaching creative writing this semester!