It is the beginning of a new semester, and today I taught the first session of MUW’s introductory multi-genre Creative Writing class. As usual, as I walked the dog and gathered my thoughts before class, my thoughts turned to what we can teach about writing. It occurred to me, that in creative writing classes, we often gravitate to discussing what works (and what doesn’t). Sure, we want to move a an audience, but we often gravitate to the lowest common denominator, to the pragmatic approach. So one of my resolutions for the semester is to remind my students that writing is an art.
In class, we were discussing our goals. It was a good place to lay the groundwork by reminding students that in a creative writing class we focus more on the artistic side of what is said. When we write an essay, we care about communicating the ideas or making an argument. Those things matter in creative writing, too, but we focus more on the sound of the words or the patterns of a sentence. We have the luxury of writing something because we think it’s beautiful. (An essay written in rhyme might be unique, but I would still grade it primarily on the ideas, not the rhyme scheme.)
My goal in in this is to encourage students to move beyond the pragmatic and think about the beautiful. Of course, they don’t have to be opposites. Voltaire, in describing his utopia of Eldorado, praises it for making the practical beautiful. If I can begin to instill in some of my students a love of language and an attention to its subtleties, then I will be happy.
As I reached the farthest end of a cold gray walk along the river, which was already nearing flood stage, and as the dog and I turned around to come home, the looming clouds unleashed a steady rain that didn’t stop all day. Yet despite the cold and rain, the river retained its beauty and showed off its power.