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 😉