#creativewriting module on experimental practice is coming to an end

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.

References

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.

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