Monday, November 16, 2020

Blood on the Page

 By Thomas Kies

Our local college has contracted me to teach another Creative Writing course in January—if our state is still allowing in-person classes by then. I’ve taught three of these in 2020, remarkable because of everything that’s going on. We all have masks on and we’re safely distanced apart in a large classroom. 

It was heartwarming when the college asked if I’d teach an Advanced Creative Writing class in addition after I finish teaching Creative Writing 101 in February. They tell me that they’ve been getting requests by former students asking that I teach an advanced course. 

I’ve noticed that the students, most of them adults, find the class to be kind of therapeutic as well as instructive. I’ve had as many as twelve in my classes (before the pandemic) and as few as four. All of the students start out as strangers, but at the end of six weeks, they’ve bonded and know a lot about each other.  

This is how I teach the class. Initially, I ask them all what they want to get out of the course. Once I have an idea what their goals are, I craft the classes accordingly. So, each Creative Writing course is slightly different, but we still cover the basics.

While the courses may vary, the structure remains the same. After each class, I give the students an assignment. It may be to write a deeply emotional scene. One assignment may be to create a scene with a kick-ass protagonist meeting a villain. The final assignment for all the courses has been to write the first few pages of your book and the last few pages of your book. Whatever that means to you.

In many cases, the beginning of their story and the ending are both deeply personal, even though it’s fictionalized.

We start the two-hour class period with the students reading their work out loud. Now, I know how scary that can be. I remember what it was like for me. It’s freaking terrifying. You’re showing everyone your baby. What if they call your baby ugly?

So, after each reading, we all applaud. Then we go around the room and we talk about the piece’s strengths and then we talk about ways that could potentially make the work stronger. When the course is over, I want the students to walk away feeling good about the craft and with a desire to keep writing. 

I love how the students have bonded at the end of six weeks. They start out as complete strangers, but when the course is finished, they feel close to each other. I think that’s because we put some much of ourselves on the page when we write.  

What was it Hemingway said? “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

When the fledgling writers do one of my assignments, in many cases, they fictionalize an event from their real lives. Some of those events are heartwarming, some of eye opening, and some are tragic. 

But much of what we write comes from our own lives and our own observations. Sure, we make stuff up. We write novels. But it’s all culled from a lifetime of experiences, emotions, feelings, observations, and influence by the people around us. 

I find these courses fulfilling and I’m gratified that the students and the college wants me to take it to the next step, Creative Writing 2.0…an advanced course. Now I’ve just got to figure out what that entails.  

Stay safe and stay healthy.


Tanya said...

Thomas, I love your approach to teaching creative writing. No surprise that the college wants to expand your role. Is there any chance you might teach an online course, maybe focused specifically on writing mysteries? I have 30 years of writing/editing experience (educational materials and nonfiction) and have ideas for a mystery series. I think a course would be helpful to provide structure and force me to write to a deadline. I bet I'd be one of many potential students who would welcome the chance to work with you in an online format.

Thomas Kies said...

Tanya, I hadn't thought about teaching an online course, but I am giving it some thought now that you've mentioned it. Thank you.

John R. Corrigan (D.A. Keeley) said...

There's something special about working with adult learners. They tap into real-life experiences that are rich and fertile for fiction. Sounds like a great class!