Tag Archives: curriculum

What can be Improved Upon in English College Courses (Part 2)

So, in the first part of this topic I discussed why teachers shouldn’t really be limiting the writing ability of creative writing students. Here is another topic that I feel needs to get addressed while we are critiquing the English college curriculum.

Alright, so it has been argued that many people go to college just to get the degree, but that it really doesn’t prepare you for the real world. I guess, in some ways that’s true, but I definitely think it gives you the opportunity to prepare for that real world through the offering of internships and through a good college curriculum. As far as us Creative Writers go, how does college prepare us? The question I always received when people knew I was a creative writing major is “What are you going to do with that?” And it’s true, what do many people do with a creative writing degree? Well, there is always publishing poetry, short stories, or maybe even that novel. However, therein lies the problem with the education, it revolves around publishing. I was very lucky in many regards that I started taking my writing seriously at a high school level. When people asked me the question above I would respond with, “Well, I’m going to get my novel published. I already have it written.” People were so impressed by that and many of my fraternity brothers said I was “10,000 steps ahead of other Creative Writing majors.” And, I probably was, but anyone can do that, they just need to put the time in to get that done. But, getting to my point, my experience in publishing has caused me to look upon the college curriculum with a new perspective.

I think that in the English Education system at the college level there should be an offered class that teaches the people in the major all the ins and outs publishing. There is so much to learn! I honestly did so much research in order to publish my book and I still feel like I’m running around with my head cut off. What this class would do is talk about every aspect of publishing: book specs, trim size, to-dos, Independent Book Publishing Association, Publisher’s Weekly. There is so much info that you could put into a class. In fact, you could probably have two classes, one a beginning class going through the basics of what all is publishing and your different types of publishing options: vanity presses, indie presses, POD, or traditional publishing. And then you could have another course, a more advanced one that has a project of actually getting a work published by the end of the class. You would utilize your previous course knowledge and then implement it with querying your stories out, building your press kits, etc. Or, you could have a “virtual” simulation or a project where you put together your business plan, a marketing plan, and a timeline of implementation just so that when you do decide to take that step and publish something later on in life you have a blue print, you have done it before, and you’ve been pretty much “taken by the hand” throughout the whole process.

With this kind of info at least at their fingertips I think it’d encourage many more students to really get out there and write! Writing isn’t about jamming out a novel in a day, it’s about persistence. It took 6 years for me to get my first novel to where I want it to be. Although these courses will not help the motivation factor, it will definitely help benefit them with just a deeper knowledge of the publishing industry. I feel as though this would benefit many many English students who don’t really know how to take that next step into utilizing that English major that they acquired. Or, even if they didn’t want to publish something, they can take this knowledge to try to get jobs at publishing companies and have a job that directly relates to their major (which is something hard to find for many students nowadays like I said before).

 

If any of you reading this are pursuing something in the English Major what do you think about including some elective publishing classes? What other ideas can you think of that would help other English majors feel more prepared after college? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

What can be Improved Upon in English College Courses (Part 1)

So, there are a few things that have been bugging me for a while now. This blog post actually gets a little long so I’m expanding it into multiple parts. Part one talks about writing courses in college, although all of this can probably be applied to high school writing courses as well.  Part 2 will focus on courses I think that should be added to the college curriculum. And, who knows, maybe I’ll expand this into a part 3, as well, topic yet to be determined.

Firstly, why is there such a tendency to curb the way we college students write? I understand that different people have different taste in genres, but I believe each genre should be an acceptable format to write in during a college writing course. We come there to enhance our skills after all, not to write something that has no interest to us. I’ll use my college experience as an example here (and I know many colleges are focused around the same way), in my junior level creative writing prose course we were meant to have a portfolio at the end of the semester with 3 short stories in it. I had an awesome teacher who allowed us to write whatever we wanted. . . Initially, anyways. I decided I’m going to kill two birds with one stone and I’ll write a short story that coincides with my larger piece that I’m working on, my novel. I loved it. I had an awesome time writing it and I feel as though much of the class enjoyed it (that last part could be due to the fact that I consider myself a decent writer). Anyways, 2/3 pieces I wrote for that portfolio turned out to be short stories that supplemented my novel, The Trials of the Core, which is a fantasy piece.

In my senior level creative writing prose course my teacher strictly forbade anyone from writing fantasy short stories and decided to stick with literary prose. Okay. I don’t mind literary prose, I can write about anything, that’s what practice will get you, but if I had a choice what would I choose? Probably my fantasy stories and again work on things that are going to compliment me later in life. Now, the problem here?

The problem is that my senior level creative writing teacher forbade us to write on anything other than her specific interest even when we had two pieces we needed to turn in at the end of the year. My junior-level teacher did not. To me a solution could be that, yes, you can write a story genre specific to your choice, but then you must also write another story that is not in your typical genre. This forces us as writers and readers to do a couple things: (1) As writers, we find our voice in different genres. We are exposed to a wider range of writing, and as such, become better versed in all aspects writing. (2) As readers, we learn to look at different types of literature and judge it in the genre that it’s in. We see the shortcomings of a specific genre, and the strengths of another. We learn to analyze differently and perhaps even take what’s specific in one genre and merge it with another (for example, merging an idea of fantasy into magical realism). (3) As teachers, you should be able to discern good writing from bad writing no matter the genre. Even if it’s something you don’t typically read, you know a good sentence when you see it—it is not as abstract as poetry is in my opinion.

I am pro-fantasy writer, a definite advocate, and so I hate it when teachers tell me I can’t write a specific way and there are typically a few reasons: (1) Fantasy is about world building and you don’t have enough time to properly world build in a short story, (2) You need to deal with magic and supernatural elements, that again, take a long time to explain and not suited for a short story, (3) there may be creatures in it that we cannot suspend our disbelief to.

Great…

Here are some reasons why we should be allowed to write fantasy (but you can apply these reasons to other genres as well): (1) The ability to create a delicate plot structure. Just think about it, imagine how much planning and timing it takes for fantasy authors to juggle multiple plot lines in a single story. J.K. Rowling had 7 books in her series, Harry Potter, and although I doubt she had all 7 outlined when she wrote her first book, she had a good idea of where she wanted the story to go. As fantasy writers we need to think about things that happen in the first book that will affect the second book, third book, and so on. That is hard! And a reason why if we can practice that in short story format, utilizing the setup-payoff technique, we are going to be well off when we actually start our career after college. (2) World building. I don’t think there is another genre (perhaps besides science-fiction) that worldbuilds like fantasy does. This is a trait that can carry over to ANY GENRE. We as writers are writers, first and foremost, but I’d scoff at anyone who says that as a writer they are not an observer—a people watcher, a world watcher. If you can dream up or think up these fantastic settings that are, for the most part, imaginary just think about how well you will be able to do describing something that takes place in Smoky Mountains, Tennessee. The language we use is the same, the reality is that in most other fiction, it literally is reality that is the difference. It’s there. Tangible. (3) To further recognize how to deal with not only cliché characters, but hackneyed scenarios. This is huge in genre fiction. In romance you have the love triangle and the most known one is the High School quarterback dating the head cheerleader and then this other undiscovered girl comes in and attracts the quarterback and they fall in love. For fantasy it’s the idea that an orphan will be the one to save everyone. And so on and so forth for the other genres. But, writing these short stories in these different types of genres allow us to practice creating different archetypes of characters, because we don’t want the predictable love triangle. By listening to others’ feedback who aren’t maybe versed in the genre as much as we are, we get an outsiders perspective which might just be the thing we are looking for when it comes to changing up our pacing, style, tone or perspective.

Well, that actually happened to be a lengthier blog post than I intended it to be, but it needed to be said nonetheless. So, there you have it teachers and professors, don’t limit your student’s creativity just because you don’t like a particular genre. Instead, embrace it. Allow them to write perhaps one of there 3 portfolio pieces in a genre of their choosing but then encourage them to go outside their norms and write in something else. This will only create better writers, better readers, and better analyzers. We as students are thirsty for variety, thirsty for knowledge, and that sort of thing is taken away when our writing habits are dictated. I think Plato says it best when he says, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” Know one thing, you know nothing, know many things, and you are on the write path.