How do I enjoy a creative writing class?
January 23, 2018 2:25 PM   Subscribe

I’ve recently started a creative writing class and, while I really like the instructor and the other students, I’m finding the actual experience unexpectedly stressful and anxiety-provoking. I’d like some tips or mental scripts for approaching creative writing tasks and critique in a more relaxed and confident way.

I’m not a very confident or practised creative writer and I find myself a bit out of my depth in this class. I want to be able to enjoy that feeling—the element of being out of my comfort zone is one reason that I signed up for the class in the first place—but I find the process of producing stuff for it and then discussing what I’ve written surprisingly nerve-wracking. This is true even though I tell myself the whole experience is a very low-stakes one—I just want to hone a skill, not to become a professional or published fiction writer—and even though it’s a friendly environment.

I’d be grateful for any advice on how to approach both the homework tasks each week and the business of being in the room and talking about my work in a sensible way. In part, I think my problem is that my previous experiences of education have involved mastering a vocabulary and a skillset that is sort of a given—external to me—and then replicating and using that with increasing fluency. Whereas here, I’m being told to get hold of my own inner voice and subjectivity etc and replicate that in the context of little exercises and it feels both weirdly arbitrary and very difficult. What should I be telling myself, or doing, in order to engage properly with this class and get the most out of it?
posted by Aravis76 to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I spend a lot of time journaling and doing morning pages. First thing in the morning, write three pages without any filter in order to strengthen your muscles and get used to articulating. I also recommend The Artist's Way for a developed curriculum to help express yourself more fluidly :) this helps prepare you to relax more about showing your work and talking about it, and to not be so precious about it like your previous assignments have trained you to think.
posted by yueliang at 3:07 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you can take a lot of the pressure off by actually declaring your nerves.

Like before you share work, literally say to the class/teacher- "Wow, I'm actually kinda nervous! I've never really shared my writing or been given notes before! I'm excited to hear your feedback, please don't bite my fingers off, haha!"

The beauty of this tactic is that 95% of the other students in the class feel the exact same way, and they will love you for naming the feeling, and probably be extra careful to be clear and constructive in their feedback.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:18 PM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

If the homework tasks are different writing prompts, can you spread out your attempts to begin? I mean, work out a very rough first draft one day just until you know its direction, start over from the beginning the next day, and on the third day pick the better of the two starts to work on further? My thought is that you may be able to recycle elements of your false starts later (see H.P. Lovecraft's Commonplace Book or Katherine Mansfield's Scrapbook), meanwhile enjoying several benefits: an incubation effect as the work is spread out, less stress about the value of an individual start, having a choice about what to flesh out and revise, and being able to reflect on two distinct approaches to the task.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

For me it was partly realizing how much I learned from the doing of it - working through the exercise, noticing what happens when I try to write (I was floored by how any beginning, no matter how arbitrary seeming, leds to a next step and a next and suddenly something was emerging which I would never have planned) and seeing what happens when other people read it (what others picked up on and were excited by or stuck on always seemed wildly unpredictable and therefore fascinating). Eventually I started to get excited by getting to find out what I would produce if I just jumped in, and that was itself a motivator.
posted by yarrow at 5:08 PM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Former creative writing instructor here: for the in class discussion our rule was always that the writer only speaks in the workshop at the end of the critique, and only to answer specific questions that come up or to clarify confusion. That takes a lot of the pressure off and reinforces the idea that it’s what’s on the page that matters.

As for the exercises: draft and revise, revise, revise as much as possible. Leave some time between each effort for your brain and imagination to work. You’ll find a lot more surprises that way, and the work on the page will begin to move in its own way.

Finally, relax, have fun, and take risks. The stakes are low and effort and engagement are all you need to succeed.
posted by notyou at 6:34 PM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

This may or may not be one of your struggles, but I always make sure to tell myself: "You are not your writing!" It's easy to conflate the two and feel like the writing is a direct expression of YOU, especially if you're being encouraged to express your inner voice — which of course makes the prospect of criticism agonizing. But it's just — it's like any other craft, knitting or cooking or woodwork; the words are just a thing you made. You're simply working on a skill.

In a way, it's no different from the educational experiences you're familiar with. When you write, sure, you're finding your own voice, but the foundation for that is mastery of a skillset, internalization of the conventions and techniques of fiction writing, etc.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 6:39 PM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

"I’m being told to get hold of my own inner voice and subjectivity etc"

Maybe don't worry about this too much, even if it's your instructor's focus? As a beginner writer, it was more important for me to get comfortable with the craft of writing. In my opinion it's okay to produce derivative work at first.

However, if you do want to develop a more authentic voice: reading your work aloud will help a lot. This should be one step in your writing process.
posted by toastedcheese at 10:30 AM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been part of a goon flash fiction project that's produced more than six million words since its inception, and our one iron hard rule is that you never publicly respond to crits apart from saying 'thanks'. It's incredibly hard, but if you accept that it's off the table, that removes a lot of the social anxiety of how you should contextualise/justify/explain what you've written.

If they didn't get what you meant, write again, write better. If they still don't get it but others do - maybe that's ok?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:29 PM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Creation myth or SF story where a child is the...   |   Help me decipher an old annotated map of the UK Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.