Setting Free the Birds : Heuristic Approaches to the Teaching of Creative Writing at the College Level
Parris, Peggy Baldwin
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Problem. While creative writing classes have been a part of college curricula for nearly fifty years, little has been done to address the difficulties that students have in getting started with writing tasks, particularly in finding a subject and generating raw material at the pre-writing stage for their poems and stories. The unfortunate assumption that the poet, or any imaginative writer, is invariably subject to some inborn mysteriously prompted inspiration before writing begins has kept the poetic process beyond the control of student writers; the same mystique has likewise prevented teachers from taking advantage of research into the creative and writing processes done by psychologists and rhetoricians, which might serve to give students more conscious control over stimulating their own creative abilities. Procedure. A review of the literature related to invention in rhetoric and composition since the time of Aristotle and to research into the psychology of creativity and the creative process revealed a large number of discovery techniques, or heuristics, which might have application for the creative writer. Criteria for effective heuristics were established, and techniques measured against them. Two heuristics, the tagmemic invention matrix and Burke's pentad, were specifically adapted for and presented to beginning creative writing students for use in their work, along with free writing as a mode of transcription. Followup questionnaires and individual interviews were used to determine the usefulness to the students of the discovery devices. Creative writing textbooks were reviewed for heuristics, and some methods were formulated for presenting heuristic approaches in the classroom. Findings. Students who used the tagmemic and pentad procedures generated more raw material for their work at the pre-writing stage than had been their usual practice, which helped them to get started with their writing assignments. Use of the discovery devices proved helpful in drawing forth information from memory and giving writers additional concrete, specific details to feed their imaginations for their first and subsequent drafts. Some students found the use of heuristics so beneficial that they were inclined to continue using them, and all students were given some insight into the degree to which they had conscious control of their own creativity. Only three heuristic procedures were found to be specifically mentioned as such in a limited number of creative writing texts currently in print: free writing, list-making, and journal-keeping. Conclusion. Creative writing students can benefit from instruction in techniques to increase their creativity and for controlling their own creative and writing processes. No currently available creative writing textbook contains adequate heuristic-based instruction, so teachers have an obligation to inform themselves about such procedures and to present those that will best aid their particular students in developing their own creative abilities as writers of poetry and fiction.
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