Classes in Creative Writing

If you're wondering what to expect out of a creative writing class, the answer can be found in one word: criticism. In a creative writing class, one must learn how to give criticism and how to receive it. If you get those two things down, you have nothing to fear.

First, you must learn how to give criticism. Never simply say that you like or do not like something. Everything must have a reason behind it. There must be a reason why that particular part of the story that stood out to you works or does not work. When critiquing a manuscript, it is important to focus on several things: sentences (Do they flow into each other, do they appear overwritten, do they have a kind of rhythm?), themes (The story may be about a trip to Florida, but what is it really about?), motifs (Do the symbols that pop up again and again achieve real significance?), characters (Are they round or flat?), tension (What keeps the reader interested? This may be connected to plot or it may not.), setting (Is the reader grounded in a place?), and structure (Is it chronological or something more interesting like a braided essay?). You must think of all these things and determine which ones are working and which are not. After you determine that, it is important that you understand why, so that you may explain it to the writer during workshop, and help fuel ideas to fix whatever might need to be improved.

Taking criticism has the potential to be a double edged sword. On the one hand, you don't want to be overly sensitive about your work. If the comments are thought out and people have reasons for their opinions, don't take it with a grain of salt. Think about what they are saying and how other readers might respond to your work. Develop thick skin, and take good advice. On the other hand, you don't want to blindly follow what those around you suggest. You might end up writing their essay instead of yours. Think critically about the comments that are suggested to you, and when you leave the workshop to revise, hash out the criticisms, and decide which ones you think might best suit the piece you are working on. Don't be afraid to try several things. If you thought someone had a great idea about structure and when you apply it, the piece crumbles, than the cause is not lost, just try something different, perhaps another student's suggestion. Taking criticism is a balancing act. The best rule of thumb is to act on those comments that you believe help uphold or improve your vision of the story. Don't reject criticism just to reject it and don't accept it simply to accept it.

So, when you wonder what to expect from a creative writing class, think of that one word, criticism. You must learn how to offer suggestions without attacking. You must learn to give compliments with backing. When you take criticism from others, you must learn to accept with grace and use what is appropriate. If you accomplish these things, you will excel in your creative writing class.