What’s in a Creative Writing Course? To Shift or Not to Shift Explains

Ever since I wrote To Shift or Not to Shift, an article about my experience shifting from one college course to the next, I received a lot of comments and e-mails related to my post. Recently, a reader asked me to explain what a Creative Writing course is and if it is fun to study it. Instead of just e-mailing back, I decided to write a post so that others who have the same question can benefit from my answers.

I took up Creative Writing in Ateneo de Manila, so my description will be based on that experience. I cannot guarantee that Ateneo’s program is exactly the same as other colleges but I guess there will be similarities.

In Ateneo, you can take different writing classes. I took fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. There were also classes in scriptwriting, but I didn’t take them. In all of the writing classes that I took, they had the same format.

First, we had readings. The teacher made us xerox a thick amount of pages containing examples of fiction/poetry/creative non-fiction. Before a class, we were asked to read a particular piece in that collection. Then, we discussed it in class. This happened again and again, but we never finish discussing all the pieces because there was just too many. The teacher though will encourage students to read the other pieces in his or her spare time, but I confess, that up until now, I still haven’t finished them. I have read other books that I liked. I believe that a writer must read a lot, but it doesn’t have to be the ones that people in authority chose for you.

The other thing we did was workshops. We were asked to write our own short story/poem/creative non-fiction piece, then we’d pass it to the teacher. The teacher will ask the class to go to a certain xerox machine at the campus where the teacher left a compilation of all the pieces that the entire class submitted. Each student will xerox that compilation, and then read it before coming to class.

During the class, everyone will be seated in a ring. The teacher will pick one piece from the compilation, and everyone is allowed to make comments about the piece except the writer of that piece. The comments can be positive or negative and can be about any aspect of the piece or a reaction experienced by the reader.

Once everyone is finished, the teacher will say something, and then the writer can react to what has been said. This goes on again and again until all the students in that class had a chance to be critiqued. The teacher also returns your written work with more comments. Then you’ll pass a revised version of your work based on the comments. If some of the given comments weren’t helpful or are not integral to your project, you can ignore those comments and thus they will not affect how you make your revised work.

Is it fun? Writing the stories/poems/creative non-fiction pieces was fun. Instead of memorizing some scientific fact, I was dreaming up fantastic worlds and fleshing them out through pen and paper.

Before I studied Creative Writing, I was such a slow reader, but since the course made us read to death, now I’m pretty fast.

The workshops also train your writing skills as you get a ton of feedback. From sentence structure, to grammar, to plot, to logic, etc. You also learn to analyze other people’s work, and you learn from their mistakes.

The downside is since this format just repeats in not just one class but in all classes, things get boring. Sawang-sawa ka na sa workshop, gusto mo nang magwala. Plus, if you have classmates who write terribly, then that means that you have to read his or her work several times throughout the course of the class and in other classes where you are with them. The class discussions can be interesting if your classmates are smart, but if they aren’t, yup, you guessed it right.

A surprising thing about the program in Ateneo was that we didn’t have literature subjects. Our electives were fine arts. Since I wasn’t interested in taking up drawing or acting, I asked the department secretary if I can choose literature subjects for electives. Good thing he allowed me to do so. My other classmates, who didn’t ask if we could do this, were stuck with electives that weren’t related to our course. So I got to take literature subjects as electives, but I don’t think it was enough.

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