Warning> Second draft
This module on the MA in Creativity Writing, I am doing at the University of Salford was fascinating. It was my last one. I managed to RPL one of the diploma stage modules that had a focus on professional practice. I love the fact that they are all 30 credits too as you really feel that you are learning something deeply and that it is worth it. All modules have been really useful. I have learnt so much. They opened new pathways for exploration, theoretical and applied ones, not just as a creative writer but also academic writer and academic developer. I am already weaving some of what I have been taking away into my work. This course is really showing me the value of cross-disciplinary learning and working and how ideas from one professional area or discipline can travel to another one, become novel interventions and trigger new ideas. Fascinating!
This module introduced me to the concept of uncreative writing. Uncreative writing in a creative writing course? Very strange, I thought. I did not immediately see a point in this. The first task was to type a five page existing text… I thought this is strange and while I did not feel motivated to do this. I did and in the end I recognised by rebellious nature in how I worked on this but also the need to connect with a specific text to do anything with it. It was really important for me and I can see how often we feel disconnected with stuff we are given to read. Interest-driven learning is really powerful and a strong motivator to learn and engage more deeply. My struggle to understand uncreative writing, my readings and the little experiments we did, definitely all helped. I had a eureka moment when I was working on my first assignment after the initial “I have no idea what I am doing”. Actually after a very slow start, I speeded up when I had a more concrete idea what I was going to do. The path to get there was foggy but the sun came out. It was really useful, enjoyable and a rich learning experience. I often lost myself when I was working on it and then made progress much faster than anticipated.
The truth is that the more I read and experimented, the more I started enjoying finding out more about uncreative writing. I have to say the term conceptual writing (used interchangeable with uncreative writing) did sound more appealing to me, at least at the beginning. The word concept in itself was really saying something about the way we engag in ready-made texts. Conceptually and then we make up rules. I liked that part a lot. Reading some of the work by Kenneth Goldsmith was fundamental in developing my understanding and ground my experiments. Kenneth acknowledges that we have so much text that we don’t really need anymore. Is he wrong? He also challenges our perception of plagiarism and he has been provocative with his own students in this area. Uncreative writing made me also think about open educational resources in a different way and I am writing about this a little article but I am also linking it to creative learning and teaching. Initially, I found it strange that whole thing about uncreative writing. But the idea was to provoke and help us consider alternative approaches to storymaking. To break free from conventions and give us the license to do the un-usual, the radical also and produce creative text in different shapes and forms. We were also reminded through this work that the seeds for our stories could come from anywhere, even from other stories. They often do anyway but we don’t acknowledge this.
The visualiality (is there such a word?) of the text, in poetry and prose, became more important. It is not just about adding nice pictures but more deeply engage with the text itself and more creative ways, even where we position it on the page, the size, typefont, what else we make visible or invisible. I will now critically and creatively, I hope, review some of the stories I have written to push the boundaries a little bit more. I suspect something like this, will be more demanding for the reader and my big question is, will they be ready for it?
I could relate to making the ordinary themes that became extraordinary in Lydia Davis‘ work. Her condensed stories (not sure this was the term used, maybe synoptic? Also known as flash fiction) brought fresh writing air.
Lydia is very playful with language, I find, and what she explores often reminded me of the things I could consider as a writer for children. In a way I read her stories which I suspect were written for adults as triggers to re-awakening the child in the reader. This is my personal interpretation with some of her work. She makes the ordinary appear extraordinary. Lifts the mundane and makes it shine. I have been writing picture book stories for a double audience, I think picture book writers/artists do. Despite the fact that we broadly know that picture books are for children, often children that can’t even read, they are really cross-generational creations and have layers and layers of opportunities to engage in diverse readership, if this is the desire of the author and illustrator. But also what stops us from creating picture book stories for adults? While I have only limited evidence brought together through personal explorations into the current bookmarked, I can see that increasingly picture books are more openly written for adult readers.
Perhaps the recent book by Charlie Mackesy The boy, the model, the fox and the horse, signalises a new direction for the picture book market or an additional direction perhaps? In this we are not just encouraged to wander and wonder but also to engage in creative reading (something we also started looking at in this module, see Ron Padgett’s book).
I find The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers similar.
Many are in horror and avoid writing into books but actually, from the years of working as a translator, I felt the need to add my own marks to the books I translated and read and this never left me. I just think this could be a way to engage more deeper with what we read and making sense of it but also start a dialogue and debate with the material, the story. Don’t know if anybody else feels like this.
Another similar example, is the picture book Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh. What a powerful story that is. This book was gifted to me by Paul Stacey, the Executive Director of Open Education Global at the recent Open Education Global conference in Milan in November. How did he know that this story would touch my heart? Paul didn’t even know that I was on a creative writing course and write picture book stories…
What this module also helped me to see, is that the stories that I wrote are more poems than prose. Maybe there are poetic stories. I definitely need to work more on them. To break free from tradition a little bit more, to make them exciting textually and visually as well, but beyond the classic or traditional text and illustration arrangements. Ali (2013, 4) says characteristically
“Writing is a way of thinking, the poem itself offers the best form of structure. It invents its own rules under the making: Neither line, nor form, nor diction or syntax is taken for granted by the writer. It is an anarchic piece of text that lives between boundaries.” (Ali, 2013, 4)
The story in a box I created for the first assignment, my interpretation of an existing picture book as an act of uncreative writing is perhaps such an example, but also the board game I developed earlier in another module based on a picture book story. I had the opportunity to mix in crafting, which was an interesting addition and added a very different feel and dimension to the final output but also to the process of making the box and what was in it and the arrangement of the story and artefacts. A story does not need to be told or shared in a 2 dimensional artefact, the traditional book format.
During this module it was fascinating to see where we were all taking the materials we immersed ourselves. We experimented in very different ways. It was really insightful and refreshing.
Both assignments have been submitted (I think we are getting feedback for the first one next week). I am waiting patiently for feedback and marks, while at the same time I will start thinking about a possible final project over the Christmas holidays. Just random thoughts in my head at the moment but something will emerge, I am sure. Something that will stretch me further. Something that will challenge me. Maybe a series of short poems or stories inspired by Lydia Davis but for children where the protagonists are neither humans nor animals… what could they be?
Thank you to both my tutors, Judy and Scott, on this module and the whole programme team as well as my peers for their valuable input and support.
Ali, K. (2013) Genre-Queer: Notes Against Generic Binaries. In: Singer, M. and Walker, N. (eds.) Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction. London: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional.
I have been thinking about how we could visualise the academic journey, what metaphors could work, to help colleagues make sense of it from a learning and teaching perspective and how we as academic developers could offer support and how this would look like. I have found somebody to further develop these ideas shared here, which will hopefully, become a useful resource for academic developers supporting colleagues on such a path.
There are of course, different pathways and not everybody will or will want to follow the one I mention here that is a formal academic career pathway and becomes progressively more and more competitive…
A recent discussion made me think about this and specifically the role of the Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor. They potential activities around learning and teaching, their value, impact and reach but also their development needs. So I came up with the following:
Probably has to complete the PgCert in HE and will become an FHEA, participates in workshops and staff development activities centrally organised and/or in their faculty
Engagement with some of the learning and generic and discipline-specific learning and teaching literature. Discussion groups may be useful.
May want to do our MA in HE
Engages in practice-based development, curriculum design and unit, programme leadership, starts mentoring and supporting colleagues therefore can also apply for SFHEA
Makes connections to communities and networks, often external disciplinary ones
Starts engaging in scholarly activities around learning and teaching and disseminates these internally and externally
We can create opportunities for colleagues to co-facilitate and lead staff development centrally, team-teach on our PgCert and MA, engage in peer observations, work on collaborative projects with them. Help colleagues to link to existing networks and communities, internally and externally. Highlight dissemination opportunities (conferences and publications) and do some academic matchmaking (buddy colleagues up with somebody else who has a similar interest, work on a similar learning and teaching issue).
Pushes the boundaries inside and/or outside the institution. Has influence and shapes practices in learning and teaching more widely, could be institution-wide, nationally and/or internationally.
Plays a key role in professional networks and communities. Practice is underpinned by scholarship which is shared regularly through conferences, publications. Supports, and mentors colleagues regularly internally and/or externally and their work is recognised nationally, at least. This could be through invitations to facilitate workshops, keynotes, participate in projects and collaborative research or other scholarly activities.
We can promote their work internally and externally through our networks and communities, create a platform for them. Identify further opportunities for growth also in collaboration with Research and Knowledge Exchange and other internal and external services. This could be related to book publications, special issues, sabbaticals, fellowships and larger-scale learning and teaching projects.
Development: hyper-active (?, is there a better term? there must be one!)
Breaks the boundaries and is a real leader in a specific area of learning and teaching. Has definitely wide reach and impact that stretches far beyond the institution and is known in the field as a leading expert.
We can support some of their activities through offering consultancy, we could also collaborate with Professors as partners in larger scale projects and carry out research jointly. TO CONTINUE HERE…
It has been a fascinating journey. What a challenge. I didn’t really think I would get so much out of “uncreative writing”. We have been experimenting with “ncreative” or conceptual writing, I can relate more to the second term… as part of the MA in Creative Writing and the experimental module I am doing this term. Looking back, I remind myself of my youngest, who when he was little used to say “I don’t like it? What is it?” or the other way around, I can’t remember now.
How can “uncreative” writing ever be a feature of creative writing? This did sound dodgy, but actually, my immersion into different forms of uncreative writing through authors who have done a lot of work in this area (especially Goldsmith but also others) and my peers on the course, progressively I started becoming less skeptical. It just didn’t make any sense at the beginning and often “uncreative” writing pieces looked random, random arrangements, random radical and unconventional representations that just didn’t make any sense. It seemed that yes, the new output was a new form but why? Well, there is a why and this is key, I think, in “uncreative” writing. A deep and critical and imaginative engagement with an existing text can produce a new form of creative output that stands well on its own. That has been detouched from the original. In a way, the process reminded me of translation, but it is something very different. But it is a translation or an interpretation perhaps. A focus on certain seeds we find in an original, that speak to us in a unique way and we, the “uncreative” writers, conduct a study or inquiry into these and what they could mean, or what they do mean to us. This study leads us to some findings, like any study does and it is really fascinating.
So basically by not being creative one can be really creative. It does sound strange, but I have experienced this myself…
I decided to study “uncreative” writing on the picture book Pandora (Turnbull, 2016). My final output is
Pandora’s, an artifact in a box. Both are shown above in the picture. I have reflected in detail on the creative or uncreative process, step-by-step, my dilemmas and ideas and how it all came together, as well as the features of the box and what is within it.
What I would like to do here is reflect on the whole experience, what I learnt from it and how such an approach could perhaps be used in practice… do I dare to say, my creative writing practice as well as my academic development practice.
What did I learn?
Well, uncreative writing really exists and it can be a really powerful vehicle for creative writing and I suspect development more widely. We almost never start with a blank canvas. Our ideas have their roots in other people’s work… many, often don’t want to admit this as they think it is a weakness… well, it isn’t. It is important where ideas come from. Making novel connection between ideas is being imaginative and resourceful that will drive creativity and innovation in whatever we do. This is no different in uncreative writing. I felt that my initial resistance had perhaps more to do with the perceived randomness of outputs, from my side. But, I didn’t step away from it. I was patient and open to strange ideas, ideas I wouldn’t really consider. And I think this is key. Especially when we are critical, especially when we are dismissive, we may miss valuable learning opportunities. I have seen this so often in the context of my work. As a playful and creative academic developer, I have experienced resentment when modelling more unusual approaches to learning and teaching. I know that we need to listen especially carefully when we disagree, when we dismiss, when we don’t understand something or somebody. I did stick with it and the conversations we had in class and the readings I have done, also helped, but most of it the experiment itself. Doing it myself. Learning through making, literally. And writing through making. It could be that it came naturally to me to turn a flat 2 dimensional book into a 3 dimensional adventure. I often use objects and models in my teaching. I suspect I was influenced by this, but also I felt that the digital tools I was using did not help me connect with the same depth with the story and my study. So I soon distanced myself from these. It has been fascinating. Working with our hands, thinking with our hands is still, and will always be a powerful medium. To be critical, we also need to be creative at the same time and that requires a portion of experimentation and play. Play with ideas, play to make novel connections, play to get it wrong and start again, play to change direction, but also play as a creative pleasure. I feel that I did all this as part of the project. I actually think that my own playfulness was the driver of this study. Initially it didn’t lead anywhere, I felt lost and just couldn’t get it. But then something happened and I broke free from flat paper… that was truly liberating. Originally, I tried to stick far too close to the original idea, the original text and the images, but when I conceptualised my interpretation, I could start seeing the path I would take. My wings started growing. I had no idea from the outset where this would lead me, but I have also been flexible during the process and did not ignore my inner critical voices to make decision and have to acknowledge that some of my ideas were rubbish. But they did help me better understand what I didn’t want to do, so the experimental and playful part of giving them a go was extremely useful.
I also learnt that uncreative writing enabled deep engagement with a text. I suspect this could be any text. In my case it was a picture book. Turning the story into an(other) artifact using specific uncreative writing techniques, opened my eyes and my mind to new possibilities.
My (un)creation itself in the shoebox looks a bit rough and rustic, definitely messy!!! … handmade and it is. It also looks unfinished and not refined… and it is. I have no problem with this looking back now, while originally I felt this needs to look and be perfect, polished. It isn’t. It is messy and chaotic. And when I freed myself from perfection and tolerating imperfections and mistakes (even celebrating them?), it is when the study started growing.
Is it a re-connection with the ancient myth of Pandora’s box? I did find hope… like Pandora did in the ancient myth but also Turnbull’s (2016) Pandora. Now the box belongs to everybody.
So how could I use uncreative writing in my own practice?
I am on this course as I have a special love for picture books. Using and writing or better, creating picture books in an unconventional way is appealing to me. And I think it would be for publishers too but most importantly for (young) minds who engage or we want to engage with picture (book) stories. Increasingly, it is recognised that picture books are not exclusively for children who often can’t even read… I have started exploring the use of picture book stories in academic development and my story about feedback that I also turned into a board game was perhaps a starting point for this. Using uncreative writing approaches when working conceptually with picture book stories that are relevant to my work, could be a way to engage academics more deeply and help them think and reflect and change? There is no point in reflecting just to reflect. It is the doing that matters, the change that reflection can bring.
Furthermore, I would love to work with children in primary schools and run workshops using uncreative writing approaches to put their imagination on fire and let them experience the power of reading and learning through making. Even to use “Pandora (Turnbull, 2016) and my (un)creation. How could this uncreative writing study be used in a workshop setting? What about all the broken items within it? What conversations and debates would it generate? There is definitely also scope for using such an approach in secondary schools but also in higher education I feel, where often playfulness is not harnessed (enough)… and it is seen as childish… we are all about stats and metrics in higher education, (often) not by choice… very sad and disappointing, disheartening actually.
… I started by using “uncreative writing” but nearer the end it became uncreative writing… I felt it was wrong to correct this. It also shows the distance I traveled, from something that was out there, far away from me, to something I did and now can relate to, it is something that is becoming part of my writing process… it seems.
Thank you Scott, Judy and my peers.
Goldsmith, K. (2011) It’s not plagiarism. In the digital age, it’s ‘repurposing’, 16 Sep 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 58, Issue 4, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Uncreative-Writing/128908
Turnbull, V. (2016) Pandora. London: Quarto Knows.
… and then I found this…
… and this
… as we said almost no ideas are new ideas 😉
I had a eureka moment. I have to admit that I did struggle with the concept of “uncreative writing” or “conceptual writing”. Maybe the term conceptual writing is actually closer to what it really is and “uncreative writing” is a provocation but a confusing one as I felt that I need to suspend my creative juices (not easy…) and become just a copier to say this mildly. It also doesn’t feel right to copy somebody else’s work and not acknowledge where ideas come from. This has always been a no no for me and now I was challenged to actually do this, not even accidentally but deliberately.
During the week we went to a six-form colleague. There were some art students there. One of them was working on the following. A copy of a photograph to which she added layers. Was this “uncreative art”? Seeing it happening in front of my eyes, really helped me make the connection to “uncreative writing”. And while I struggle with this term, I seem to prefer it from “conceptual writing”… very strange.
For the current module, experimental practice, “uncreative writing” is at the heart of it all, to challenge us, to stretch us, to make us feel uncomfortable… all things that I am doing in another context of course… so now it is my turn to actually feel it in my body and my soul.
Being organised and strategic (yes, strategic), I wanted to start early working on my assignments. I also don’t have that much time! Another factor that is important to mention as it defines my engagement and using every minute that I have is important so that I get the maximum out of the course and learn something useful that will help me become a better writer. There is only limited time we all have… how can we stretch it so that it goes further?
For this module we have to do two assignments, both have a very open brief and this can be a good thing, as we know but also feel disorientating… I think I sort of know what I will be doing for the second one, a hybrid piece I decided, but the first one needs to be submitted at the end of November and the pressure is on. Not much time to be creative or uncreative? But that can be a good thing. We need to use the time we have. My original idea was linked to Brexit tweets (#brexit), to curate everyday two until the end of October (I even had a special hashtag #cn_uncreativewriting…) when we suppose to break up from the EU (avoiding to use break free, as I feel that this is an illusion, anyway). But it has been far too painful and soul destroying to even curate the tweets. So I gave up after Day 4, I think. Also there were some indications that it might not have been a useful project… The good thing is perhaps that I went in a circle and came back to picture books and after some initial experimentation that was very close to the little stuff we tried in class, I think my ideas are growing into a specific direction. The discussions in class were really fundamental to find that direction and feeling less lost and unsure what I could do. These discussions helped me realise that “uncreative writing” is not that uncreative. In the contrary. It is a deeply conceptual process, one that connects the author-curator, if you like with the original author in a very special way. When that link, hook, is not there, not sure if we can talk about “uncreative writing” or “conceptual writing”. But are we always aware of this link or hook? I don’t know.
I went back to one of my favourite picture books “Pandora” by Victoria Turnbull, which I also used in one of my earlier modules but in a very different way. What I now had in mind also reminded me of what I did in my last module where I used the same heart of the story in three different ways: 1. picture book (with images I created) 2. longer story, just text 3. board game I developed based on the story. Were these acts also “uncreative writing” activities? I am wondering now. When I did them, I sort of felt that I was self-plagiarising… but maybe I wasn’t.
Pandora goes back to the ancient myth of Pandora… we all have heard it and it is about hope. But also a box… the box or the idea of “Pandora’s box” gave me an idea about the book Pandora and what I could do. I will break free from the idea of a picture book as a something that is flat and predominantly two-dimensional… yes, I will be re-creating or (re-)conceptualising this book in a box… and specifically a shoebox… now just need a box to get started. Feeling that my “uncreative block” is disappearing and I feel eager to start working on this. I am very excited!!!
I am now on a hunt for a shoebox. The right shoebox. Got one on Saturday but I felt that it was too big (for shoes size 41!!!). Now looking for a kid’s shoe box…
Other good news>>> I was accepted on The Golden Egg Picture Book Programme to start in September 2020.
Yeah!!! Received happy news just now from @TheGEAcademy Thank you so much for seeing potential and for being willing to support my work.
— Chrissi Nerantzi 🇬🇷🇪🇺🐝🇬🇧 (@chrissinerantzi) October 9, 2019
After successfully completing the Pgcert stage of the MA in Creative Writing I started last year at the University of Salford, I am now ready for year 2. Feeling very excited but also worried that I won’t have that much time as I would like to… so need to be really organised and use the time I will have available wisely. Started doing this and looked at the assessment already but still a bit in the dark exactly what I will have to do and the first assignment will be in at the end of November (a big conference then in Milan so need to be super organised!!!). Hopefully things will become clear(er) in my first class this week and I will be able to make a start with that assignment at least. I do sound very strategic…
We got a few tasks too to complete before this week’s class. BTW, I am doing the Experimental Practice module this term. I love the fact that the modules are 30 credits and not tiny ones. You actually feel that you do a good amount of work and get something for it.
I have to admit that I had to read the first task a few times to make sure I was doing the right thing… we have to type a text by anybody, any subject, that I guess interests us a little bit at least without changing any of the language, anything. I spend some time finding the right text. Was I too picky? We haven’t been given any more clues about what we will do with the text, so in the end I picked a few shorter articles from a recent magazine Adam bought be about knitting. I have been knitting since last winter but am still unable to make anything else beyond scarves…
I found it very boring to just copy the text and type it in a word document. Now imagining how it would be to type it on a typewriter… I didn’t think of changing anything but because I picked texts that were of interest to me, it did help me keep going. But as time progressed I became lazier and lazier… I have to admit. It worried less and less about any spelling mistakes. And about half way through I did question if I need the text to be single spaced… I would need to type in so much text… I needed a shortcut! So I decided to switch to 1.5 space and instantly I was almost done. Relief! Typing was over soon. I was amazed at the speed as I was copying and almost written completely blindly without looking. I sprinted towards the end and was typing faster and faster… Now thinking that it may be a (nice?) exercise to write blind folded. Don’t know why but this idea just popped into my head.
But I do prefer writing my own words instead of copying. There is natural flow and freedom. I felt restricted by this activity and like a robot who would just copy what was there already.
So the five pages are now ready and I can’t wait to see what we will do with them this week. Need to remember to print them but not double sided, I suspect. There are loads of things you could do with these texts and I guess, as this module is about experimental practice that is exactly what we will do. Will take a pair of scissors with me and some colour pencils. Just in case. Often inspiration for a story comes from an experience, something emotional we connect but maybe this will show us that inspiration can come from anywhere, even a text we have no connection to beyond a tiny interest perhaps in the topic.
Looking forward to seeing the new group. Most of the people I started last year, will have finished the full MA by now as they were doing it full-time. I am going slowly… I have no choice.
Already thinking of one of the assessments and as it is a creative piece, I have a picture book trilogy in mind I started writing and editing (no polishing yet!). I hope this will work so that I can progress this project and become more experimental in my creative writing approach.
Also need to watch the following http://www.ubu.com/film/goldsmith_sucking.html No idea what it is about yet. Watched it now, in advance of the session and it is fascinating. A valuable introduction into Kenneth Goldsmith’s work and perspectives on creative or uncreative writing and the claim that creative writing is far too conservative, still. Looking forward to the session today. Will also get his book about uncreative writing. Will be facinating reading.
Our last week, our last session. Today. This morning. I wanted my colleagues who are also my students, to experience a student-led session, a session fully directed by them, as students. I felt that emptying the room even of furniture would help. Create an open space. An open space for thinking. For ideas. For exploration. Can’t wait to see everybody’s reaction. I did start writing this post in advance of the session…
There is always the temptation, as we get excited with what we teach, to orchestrate everything for the students. But learning to let go and not control the process is equally important, if not more important. I will only make some suggestions and then step back. Resources around assessment and feedback, the topics for our session, will be on Moodle and anything can be used what is there or elsewhere. I can’t wait to see what happens, how learning will happen in the first two hours. I do trust them all.
The no tables/desks approach seemed to work. I don’t know what my colleagues did expect from today but they were warned. I think the student-led approach used today really showed that freedom can be liberating but also disorientating. But we got there. Two groups were formed and leaders emerged organically that took others on a journey, an exploration. I did really enjoy listening into their conversations and could see that my colleagues were focused and on task. They shared experiences, practices and ideas across disciplines.
The microteach preparation part showed that my colleagues had concrete ideas for their sessions. I was hoping our Manchester city centre game helped them with this. And I think it really did help them. The questions they had today were mainly around the paperwork and the level of detail required in the forms. They were asking about examples of work too.
I wish I had gone with my original idea of paired microteach sessions. It would have been a completely different experience for all of us and so so useful. We would also have larger groups and safe time as well? Peer learning through team teaching can be invaluable. Thinking beyond observing teaching in somebody else’s classroom or being observed by somebody external to a unit or programme just opens up new possibilities. My recent experience of team teaching a postgraduate unit with a colleague in nutritional sciences as invaluable for both of us and I wanted to give others the opportunity to experience something like this…I hope it can happen one day…in the not so distant future.
My feeling is that the unit is too short. Relationships need time to develop, more time than we had. And trust. Trust develops and grows over time, it doesn’t happen over night and it is so so important in learning and teaching. When we trust, we become more open, more experimental, more tolerant of each other, of ideas and stuff that we would otherwise not consider. I hope in the next iteration of the programme, there will be more time to develop relationships and trust and grow pedagogic experimenters.
This is the end for now. I miss you all already. Keep questioning. Our curiosity drives us forward.
See at least some of you for the microteach sessions later this month.