While still finding my way teaching ENC 1101 last year, I registered for Dr. Schmitt’s “Teaching Creative Writing” class on the excellent advice of a third-year MFA student. I had only a vague idea of how to articulate the ways good writing is produced. In ENC 1101, my students seemed to respond well to very specific instructions for writing academic essays, but creative writing allows for more freedom and relies more on what may be described as the “X factor.” How do we know that writing is “good,” anyway, and can we teach this to our students even if we do profess to know? As I learned from the readings for the TCW class, these are questions that have always been and probably always will be discussed, and the varied attempts to answer them make creative writing a perennially interesting and evolving discipline.
My favorite assignment for TCW was delivering a craft lecture, which required us to speak for about 30 minutes on a single specific aspect of writing as a craft. My chosen topic, “religion in fiction,” allowed me to examine two of my favorite works, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ. I had known for some time that these works moved me beyond measure, but in preparing the craft lecture I had the opportunity to explore how these authors used words and ideas to create such a profound effect. The “X factor” still exists, but it’s not so ultimately mysterious as I once thought. Understanding how writing works doesn’t make it any less beautiful. When I analyzed the authors’ words, I felt the excitement of new discovery and wanted to share it with my audience: See what Steinbeck did there? I have to find a way to tell you how great that was.
In my best moments of teaching I feel alive, and it is very similar to how I feel when my own writing is going well. In both teaching and writing, there are false starts-- ideas that don’t work as well as you thought they would—but then you step to the side, approach from a different perspective, and find words that are different and better. I see now how teaching informs writing and vice versa, both providing the indispensable opportunity to create.
Katrina is a second-year fiction candidate in the MFA program. She loves Steinbeck and Faulkner and is currently working up the courage to start a novel.