“At first glance, encouraging research in personal narratives may seem to undermine the very thing that makes personal narratives great: the power of an individual’s true story. But even writers who favor personal experience, particularly our beginning creative writing students, can benefit from stepping outside the confining labyrinths of their own memories in order to see their experiences in a broader context, in order to move from the accurate into the connective. That our memories are fragmented, fallible, and often distorted is inevitable. That our writing be memorable, however, may simply be a matter of finding the larger truth of creative nonfiction.”
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“Write What You Don’t Know: Teaching Creative Research,” New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing 8.2 (2011): 96-102.
“Like most graduate teaching assistants, I needed to move up the English course ladder by teaching composition courses, including research-based ones, as a prerequisite to teaching within my specialty. When I finally reached my first introduction to creative writing course, I was all too eager to abandon many of the composition-based practices I had developed over the years. In lieu of all that “outside stuff” that seemed to stifle creativity—source materials, in-text citations, or research guidelines—I drew upon the axiom “write what you know” and asked my students to examine their personal experience. Recall emotions during your life’s highs and lows, I told them. Really listen to the conversations around you. Pull the skeletons out of the closet. Let your life inspire you.
I was surprised to find, then, that with my first exercise I received, among others, a car-chase-filled tale of international espionage, two accounts of Mafia hitmen, and a royal court chronicle of Elizabethan England. I felt fairly certain (and hopeful) that none of my students were secretly spies or mob bosses, and I was sure that none had visited sixteenth-century England. These stories seemed more inspired by The Sopranos, the Bourne movie franchise, and Shakespeare than my students’ own lives.
With that first class, I quickly realized that many students—not all, of course, but enough—prefer to write about faraway places they’ve never seen or interesting characters they’ve never encountered. I faced two options: the first was to restrict this desire and require writing based on personal experience; the second was to encourage this desire by teaching creative research. In my experience, instructors often overlook creative research as an important lesson, applauding it when it appears but never deliberately bringing it into the classroom. By making research an explicit goal in my course, however, I can equip my students with the skills to compose not only pseudo-personal poetry, prose, and drama, but also works that delve into unfamiliar worlds and promote discovery, investigation, and exploration. For those students who wish to write about the circus, I can assist them in finding out what really goes on there. I can throw them—figuratively, of course—into the lions’ den.”
* Reprinted in Dispatches from the Classroom: Graduate Students on Creative Writing Pedagogy, edited with Chris Drew and David Yost.
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“Do You Understand? A Practical Guide to Synchronous Online Tutoring,” The Writing Lab Newsletter 34.1 (September 2009): 14-15.
“Last year our center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee added synchronous online tutoring. With the increase in distance learning in the academy and the resulting need for student services to go online, this step was inevitable. We use WCOnline’s Online Tutoring Module, which includes a large box on the screen in which the writer can upload and share documents and a smaller instant-messaging-style dialogue box in which most of the communication occurs. This program is user-friendly and helps facilitate a dialogic atmosphere. I have noticed, however, that these online consultations present some unique challenges. Fortunately, none of these challenges are too difficult for tutors to overcome. By utilizing a few key tactics and by replicating as closely as possible a face-to-face session in cyberspace, we can make synchronous online tutoring sessions just as rewarding as our face-to-face sessions.”
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