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7 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills
Writing, like any other skill, is something you can get better at with time and practice. Learn how.
From sending emails to preparing presentations, writing is often a day-to-day task in many professions spanning diverse industries. Writing skills go beyond grammar and spelling. Accuracy, clarity, persuasiveness, and several other elements play a part in ensuring your writing is conveying the right message.
What are writing skills?
Writing is a technical skill that you use to communicate effectively through the written word. Though these may vary depending on what you’re writing, there are several that transcend categories. Writing skills can more specifically include:
Research and accuracy
Each of these components can influence the quality of writing.
Why are writing skills important?
Being able to write well is a form of effective communication , which many employers see as a crucial job skill . In fact, strong communication—spanning written, verbal, non-verbal, and visual—is among the nine common employability skills that employers seek in job candidates.
Regardless of your role, with good writing skills, you can clearly transcribe your thoughts into meaningful messages, enabling you to share your ideas, build relationships, and strengthen your professional image.
Learn more: Important Communication Skills and How to Improve Them
How to improve your writing skills
Writing, like any other skill, is something we can get better at with time and practice. Here are some strategies for developing your own written communication:
1. Review grammar and spelling basics.
Grammar and spelling form the foundation of good writing. Writing with proper grammar and spelling communicates your professionality and attention to detail to your reader. It also makes your writing easier to understand.
Plus, knowing when and how to use less-common punctuation, like colons, semicolons, and em-dashes, can unlock new ways to structure sentences and elevate your writing.
If you’re looking to strengthen your grammar and spelling, start by consulting a writing manual. The Elements of Style by William Stunk and E.B. White has long been considered a staple for writers. You can find similar resources at your local library, bookstore, or online.
2. Read what you want to write.
Knowing what a finished piece of writing can look like can guide your own. If you’re trying to write a humorous short story, read humorous short stories. Writing a book review? Find a few and take note of how they’re structured. Pay attention to what makes them good and what you want to emulate (without plagiarizing, of course). If you’re working on a school assignment, you can ask your instructor for examples of successful pieces from past students.
Make reading a part of your everyday life to improve your writing. Try reading the news in the morning or picking up a book before you head to bed. If you haven’t been a big reader in the past, start with topics you’re interested in, or ask friends and family for recommendations. You’ll gradually begin to understand what subjects, genres, and authors you enjoy.
While it’s tempting to submit work as soon as you’re done with it, build in some time to revisit what you’ve written to catch errors big and small. Here are a few proofreading tips to keep in mind:
Set your work aside before you edit. Try to step away from your writing for a day or more so you can come back to it with fresh, more objective eyes. Crunched for time? Even allotting 20 minutes between writing and proofreading can allow you to approach your work with renewed energy.
Start with easy fixes, then progress to bigger changes. Starting with easier changes can get you in the rhythm for proofreading, allow you to read through your work once more, and clear distractions so you can focus on bigger edits. Read through your work to catch misspellings, inconsistencies, and grammar errors. Then address the larger problems with structure or awkward transitions.
If you could say something in fewer words, do so. Being unnecessarily wordy can cloud your message and confuse the reader. Pare down phrases that are redundant, repetitive, or obvious.
Read out loud. Reading out loud can help you find awkward phrases and areas where your writing doesn’t flow well.
Should you use computer spelling and grammar tools?
Many computer-based tools—like spell check on your word processor, or Grammarly — can help you find and fix simple spelling and grammar errors. These tools are not perfect but can help even the most seasoned of writers avoid mistakes. Take note of any frequently highlighted words or phrases so that you can avoid the same mistakes in the future.
4. Get feedback.
Whether you’re writing emails or essays, asking for feedback is a great way to see how somebody besides yourself will interpret your text. Have an idea of what you’d like your proofreader to focus on—the structure, conclusion, the persuasiveness of an argument, or otherwise.
Approach a trusted friend, family member, coworker, or instructor. If you’re a student, your school might also have a writing resource center you can reach out to.
You might also consider forming a writing group or joining a writing class. Find writing courses online, at your local community college, or at independent writing workshops in your city.
5. Think about structure.
Grammar and spelling keep your writing consistent and legible, but structure ensures the big ideas get across to the reader.
In many cases, forming an outline will help solidify structure. An outline can clarify what you’re hoping to convey in each section, enable you to visualize the flow of your piece, and surface parts that require more research or thought.
Structure might look different depending on what you’re writing. An essay typically has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A fiction piece might follow the six-stage plot structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement. Choose what’s best for your purposes.
Like many skills, one of the best ways to improve your writing is to practice. Here are a few ways you can get started:
Start a journal or a blog.
Join a class or writing workshop.
Practice free writing.
Write letters to friends or family.
Put together an opinion piece for your local newspaper or publication you like.
7. Know some common fixes.
Even if a text is grammatically correct, you may be able to make it more dynamic and interesting with some polish. Here are some common ways you can sharpen your writing:
Choose strong verbs (for example, “sprinted,” “dashed,” or “bolted” instead of “ran”).
Avoid passive voice.
Vary sentence length.
Cut unnecessary words.
Replace cliches with original phrasing.
Showing your writing skills in a job search
Your writing skills will shine throughout the job search process , whether or not you intend to show them off. This is because job applications are largely written materials, including your cover letter , resume , and email communications . Use these opportunities to demonstrate your writing skills to prospective employers by submitting clear, accurate, and engaging materials.
Additionally, if you have specialized expertise, such as experience with legal writing, medical writing, technical writing, or scientific writing, you can note that in a resume skills section and further detail that experience within your cover letter or during your interviews .
Whether you’re a scientist or a product manager, journalist or entrepreneur, writing effectively will enable you to communicate your ideas to the world. Through practice, exposure, and familiarizing yourself with basic rules, you’ll be able to use your writing to say exactly what you want to say.
If you’re looking for a structured way to expand your writing skillset, explore writing courses on Coursera —the first week is free.
Give your team access to a catalog of 8,000+ engaging courses and hands-on Guided Projects to help them develop impactful skills. Learn more about Coursera for Business .
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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How to Improve Creative Writing
Last Updated: November 2, 2023 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Melessa Sargent and by wikiHow staff writer, Hannah Madden . Melessa Sargent is the President of Scriptwriters Network, a non-profit organization that brings in entertainment professionals to teach the art and business of script writing for TV, features and new media. The Network serves its members by providing educational programming, developing access and opportunity through alliances with industry professionals, and furthering the cause and quality of writing in the entertainment industry. Under Melessa's leadership, SWN has won numbers awards including the Los Angeles Award from 2014 through 2021, and the Innovation & Excellence award in 2020. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 31,957 times.
Creative writing is an outlet to express your imagination by putting it onto paper. Many people enjoy creative writing, but some struggle with it because of how unstructured it can feel. If you have been writing creatively and you’d like to improve your skills, try learning grammar rules and receiving feedback on your work to strengthen your creative writing and boost your confidence.
Creating Polished Work
- Using correct grammar and punctuation will also make your writing seem more polished.
- For example, instead of saying, “He quickly and quietly ate his food,” try saying, “He gulped down his meal.” This sentence is more interesting, and gives the same effect to the reader.
Tip: Take a break from writing and come back to your piece after a few hours or even days. Mistakes will be easier to spot after you’ve taken a break.
- Revising is similar to proofreading, except you are looking for ways to improve your piece, not just correcting mistakes.
- Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t like your piece, or has a lot of feedback to give. You can choose whether or not to implement a change that someone else suggests.
Finding Time and Ideas
Tip: If you think you might forget to write, set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself.
- Get a library card so that you can check out books for free instead of buying them every time.
- For example, you might start with a prompt like, “Imagine what it would be like to be a plant,” or "Write about a day in the life of Barack Obama.”
- You can also use people-watching to practice writing down descriptions of behavior and clothing.
- For instance, try writing a fairytale from another character’s perspective, or setting it in today’s era.
- Deadlines that you set for yourself can seem easy to brush off, but you will be disappointed in yourself if you don’t meet them.
- Make sure your deadlines are realistic. Don’t plan on finishing an entire book by next week if you’re only halfway through.
You Might Also Like
- ↑ https://www.luc.edu/literacy/grammar.shtml
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
- ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/group-writing/
- ↑ Melessa Sargent. Professional Writer. Expert Interview. 14 August 2019.
- ↑ https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1
- ↑ https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/why-its-important-to-read/
- ↑ https://cetl.uconn.edu/about/mission/
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How to Teach Creative Writing | 7 Steps to Get Students Wordsmithing
“I don’t have any ideas!”
“I can’t think of anything!”
While we see creative writing as a world of limitless imagination, our students often see an overwhelming desert of “no idea.”
But when you teach creative writing effectively, you’ll notice that every student is brimming over with ideas that just have to get out.
So what does teaching creative writing effectively look like?
We’ve outlined a seven-step method that will scaffold your students through each phase of the creative process from idea generation through to final edits.
7. Create inspiring and original prompts
Use the following formats to generate prompts that get students inspired:
- personal memories (“Write about a person who taught you an important lesson”)
- imaginative scenarios
- prompts based on a familiar mentor text (e.g. “Write an alternative ending to your favorite book”). These are especially useful for giving struggling students an easy starting point.
- lead-in sentences (“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”).
- fascinating or thought-provoking images with a directive (“Who do you think lives in this mountain cabin? Tell their story”).
Don’t have the time or stuck for ideas? Check out our list of 100 student writing prompts
6. unpack the prompts together.
Explicitly teach your students how to dig deeper into the prompt for engaging and original ideas.
Probing questions are an effective strategy for digging into a prompt. Take this one for example:
“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”
Ask “What questions need answering here?” The first thing students will want to know is:
What happened overnight?
No doubt they’ll be able to come up with plenty of zany answers to that question, but there’s another one they could ask to make things much more interesting:
Who might “I” be?
In this way, you subtly push students to go beyond the obvious and into more original and thoughtful territory. It’s even more useful with a deep prompt:
“Write a story where the main character starts to question something they’ve always believed.”
Here students could ask:
- What sorts of beliefs do people take for granted?
- What might make us question those beliefs?
- What happens when we question something we’ve always thought is true?
- How do we feel when we discover that something isn’t true?
Try splitting students into groups, having each group come up with probing questions for a prompt, and then discussing potential “answers” to these questions as a class.
The most important lesson at this point should be that good ideas take time to generate. So don’t rush this step!
5. Warm-up for writing
A quick warm-up activity will:
- allow students to see what their discussed ideas look like on paper
- help fix the “I don’t know how to start” problem
- warm up writing muscles quite literally (especially important for young learners who are still developing handwriting and fine motor skills).
Freewriting is a particularly effective warm-up. Give students 5–10 minutes to “dump” all their ideas for a prompt onto the page for without worrying about structure, spelling, or grammar.
After about five minutes you’ll notice them starting to get into the groove, and when you call time, they’ll have a better idea of what captures their interest.
Did you know? The Story Factory in Reading Eggs allows your students to write and publish their own storybooks using an easy step-by-step guide.
4. Start planning
Now it’s time for students to piece all these raw ideas together and generate a plan. This will synthesize disjointed ideas and give them a roadmap for the writing process.
Note: at this stage your strong writers might be more than ready to get started on a creative piece. If so, let them go for it – use planning for students who are still puzzling things out.
Here are four ideas for planning:
A graphic organiser will allow your students to plan out the overall structure of their writing. They’re also particularly useful in “chunking” the writing process, so students don’t see it as one big wall of text.
Storyboards and illustrations
These will engage your artistically-minded students and give greater depth to settings and characters. Just make sure that drawing doesn’t overshadow the writing process.
If you have students who are hesitant to commit words to paper, tell them to think out loud and record it on their device. Often they’ll be surprised at how well their spoken words translate to the page.
Write a blurb
This takes a bit more explicit teaching, but it gets students to concisely summarize all their main ideas (without giving away spoilers). Look at some blurbs on the back of published books before getting them to write their own. Afterward they could test it out on a friend – based on the blurb, would they borrow it from the library?
3. Produce rough drafts
Warmed up and with a plan at the ready, your students are now ready to start wordsmithing. But before they start on a draft, remind them of what a draft is supposed to be:
- a work in progress.
Remind them that if they wait for the perfect words to come, they’ll end up with blank pages .
Instead, it’s time to take some writing risks and get messy. Encourage this by:
- demonstrating the writing process to students yourself
- taking the focus off spelling and grammar (during the drafting stage)
- providing meaningful and in-depth feedback (using words, not ticks!).
Reading Eggs also gives you access to an ever-expanding collection of over 3,500 online books!
2. share drafts for peer feedback.
Don’t saddle yourself with 30 drafts for marking. Peer assessment is a better (and less exhausting) way to ensure everyone receives the feedback they need.
Why? Because for something as personal as creative writing, feedback often translates better when it’s in the familiar and friendly language that only a peer can produce. Looking at each other’s work will also give students more ideas about how they can improve their own.
Scaffold peer feedback to ensure it’s constructive. The following methods work well:
A simple rubric allows students to deliver more in-depth feedback than “It was pretty good.” The criteria will depend on what you are ultimately looking for, but students could assess each other’s:
- use of language.
Whatever you opt for, just make sure the language you use in the rubric is student-friendly.
Two positives and a focus area
Have students identify two things their peer did well, and one area that they could focus on further, then turn this into written feedback. Model the process for creating specific comments so you get something more constructive than “It was pretty good.” It helps to use stems such as:
I really liked this character because…
I found this idea interesting because it made me think…
I was a bit confused by…
I wonder why you… Maybe you could… instead.
1. The editing stage
Now that students have a draft and feedback, here’s where we teachers often tell them to “go over it” or “give it some final touches.”
But our students don’t always know how to edit.
Scaffold the process with questions that encourage students to think critically about their writing, such as:
- Are there any parts that would be confusing if I wasn’t there to explain them?
- Are there any parts that seem irrelevant to the rest?
- Which parts am I most uncertain about?
- Does the whole thing flow together, or are there parts that seem out of place?
- Are there places where I could have used a better word?
- Are there any grammatical or spelling errors I notice?
Key to this process is getting students to read their creative writing from start to finish .
Important note: if your students are using a word processor, show them where the spell-check is and how to use it. Sounds obvious, but in the age of autocorrect, many students simply don’t know.
A final word on teaching creative writing
Remember that the best writers write regularly.
Incorporate them into your lessons as often as possible, and soon enough, you’ll have just as much fun marking your students’ creative writing as they do producing it.
Need more help supporting your students’ writing?
Read up on how to get reluctant writers writing , strategies for supporting struggling secondary writers , or check out our huge list of writing prompts for kids .
Watch your students get excited about writing and publishing their own storybooks in the Story Factory
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- Story Writing Tips
How to Improve Creative Writing Skills: 10 Fun Ways for Kids!
Want to be a novelist when you grow up? But worried that your English skills may not be up to scratch. Or maybe you just can’t seem to find the right inspiration to get you started! Here’s a list of 10 ways to improve your creative writing skills this summer. Guaranteed to leave you inspired and ready to write your next big novel or a super sweet short story!
What are Creative Writing Skills?
Before we tell you how to improve your creative writing skills, you need to know what exactly this means. Creative writing refers to fictional writing or storytelling. Take, for example, a newspaper article is not an example of creative writing, as it must include facts about a situation. While with creative writing you can use your imagination to make stuff up. Generally, the purpose of creative writing is to produce something which is entertaining, engaging and even personal.
Many writers use creative writing as a way of expressing their feelings and thoughts. It is a type of art form which uses words instead of pictures to connect with people. Examples of creative writing may include:
- Song lyrics
- Short Stories
- Movie scripts
- Scripts for plays
But not all creative writing is fictional. Some like memoirs can be non-fictional and based on true stories. But could be written using imaginative language or have a dialogue between characters .
10 Ways to Improve your creative writing skills
1. read everything you can find.
Let’s start with the obvious one! Read a lot! Read anything you find lying around your house from old storybooks to newspapers. While reading this stuff, pay attention to the words being used by the writer, the use of metaphors, adjectives, characters, the plot, the conflict in the story etc. If you come across a word you don’t understand, use a dictionary to find its meaning and then practice using it in a sentence to gain a better understanding of that word. For more ways to get kids reading, check out this cool article .
2. Find inspiration in everyday things.
The world around you is full of interesting events. Go for a walk and ask yourself questions, such as what is that person doing? What is that dog looking at? Why are those people arguing? Write a summary of something that is happening on the TV or a video game you just finished playing. Write about everything and anything you see, hear, smell or feel! You’ll be surprised at what pops up in your head.
3. Use writing prompts to inspire you.
There are tons of resources on the internet that can inspire you, in magazines, newspaper headlines and any other words you find lying around. Why not check out our writing prompts for kids or sign-up for our newsletter for monthly creative writing resources?
4. Criticise the work of others.
When reading a book, try to identify the flaws in that story and list a couple of improvements. Also, note down the best parts of that story, what did you enjoy while reading that book? This can help you to understand the elements of a great story and what to avoid when writing. You can aim to do weekly or monthly book reviews on the books you read. Soon you’ll be able to master the secrets of great creative writing like a master!
5. Keep a journal and write something in it every day.
Even if you think your life is boring and nothing interesting ever happens in it. You can write about your goals and inspirations or what you did for lunch today. Anything is better than nothing! One day you’ll look back at these notes and they’ll inspire you to write an awesome story – you never know.
6. Play imaginative games.
Games such as cops and robbers or pretending to be a character from your favourite TV show or movie can be really inspirational. You can use our printable Red Riding Hood paper finger puppets to role-play the story of Red Riding Hood! Link a writing activity with these games, such as writing a day in the life story for a character you are playing or sending an imaginary letter to your favourite character in the story.
7. Rewrite a famous story.
Sometimes creating new characters or a story plot from scratch can be difficult. To improve your creative writing skills you can take a well-known story, such as Cinderella or any other fairy tale and change it slightly, so it has a different ending or comes from a different character’s perspective. For example, you can write from the point of view of the ugly stepsisters and how they felt when Cinderella found her Prince Charming! Or what if Prince Charming chose the stepsisters over Cinderella, what would she have done to escape?
8. Use image prompts to inspire you!
Image prompts, such as photographs, paintings, or a picture in a magazine can be great. You can even take your own pictures when on a day out or on holiday. When you come home, for each picture you can write an interesting caption to describe it. You can even try creating a whole story from all your holiday photos!
9. Incentivise your writing!
When writing, try setting yourself some small goals. For example today I will aim to write 100 words. Once you achieve this goal, give yourself a reward. This can be anything you like, such as going out with your friends, watching your favourite film or playing your favourite game. The important thing is that you stay motivated when writing. This is most important when trying to improve your creative writing skills.
10. Connect writing with your interests.
If you love football, why not write about your favourite footballer? How would you feel if you met them? What would you say to them? Why not write an imaginary letter to them? Whatever you enjoy doing, you can link any writing activity to it!
Check out our list of over 100 creative writing exercises for more ideas on how to improve your creative writing skills.
Bonus Creative writing Tips
- Don’t worry too much about spelling or grammar. You can fix these afterwards, once you have your story in place. Focus on developing creative story ideas and how wacky your stories can become!
- Ensure you have a comfortable place to write your stories. Check out our Pinterest for suitable reading and writing nooks! The perfect writing nook should have pens, paper, pencils, a dictionary, a thesaurus, a bookshelf and anything else that you love!
- Plan your story before writing. Check out our cool, printable storyboard template here .
- Schedule some time every day to focus on reading or writing activities.
See over 26 creative writing tips that will turn you into a professional writer!
Top 5 Skills for Creative Writing
Interested in creative writing? The skills of a creative writer include:
- Imagination: You need a great deal of imagination to excel in creative writing. No one wants to read the same old story again, they want to see a unique take on a topic – Something that makes them go wow!
- Persistence: Writing takes time. Whether it’s a poem or a novel, you need to be able to spend hours, days and even weeks and months perfecting your ideas and working out a plot. And then comes the editing and publishing process. Let’s just say you can’t be a great creative writer in one day – that’s for sure.
- Resilience: T he life of a creative writer is hard. You will be faced with a lot of criticism from all sorts of people. Some might think your story is not realistic, others might say your plot is a little dull. But you need to be able to handle criticism and build from it. Remember criticism is not a bad thing, it helps you become a better writer.
- Writing Ability: Your words have to make sense, grammatically. You can be a professional creative writer if you’re not sure how to use commas or don’t know how to format dialogue properly. For this reason, it is important to understand the basics of writing in general before you become a creative writer.
Got any more tips to improve your creative writing skills? Let us know by commenting below!
Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.
10 Creative Writing Skills and How To Improve Them
Discover 10 Creative Writing skills along with some of the best tips to help you improve these abilities.
Creative writing is a skill that can be used in many different ways. Whether you’re writing a novel, a short story, a poem or even just a grocery list, creative writing can be a helpful and rewarding skill to have. In this guide, we’ll discuss what creative writing is, how it can be used and how you can improve your own creative writing skills.
Originality, flexibility, storytelling.
Imagination is an important creative writing skill because it allows you to create new worlds and characters. It also allows you to think outside the box and come up with original ideas. When you practice your imagination, you can improve your ability to think creatively and come up with new ideas.
To improve your imagination, try brainstorming new ideas, daydreaming, or writing short stories or poems. You can also practice visualizing a scene before you write it down. If you can see the scene in your head, it will be easier to write it down.
Creativity is an important skill for writers because it allows them to come up with new ideas and develop new stories. A creative writer can come up with unique characters, settings and plotlines that other writers might not think of. Additionally, creativity can help writers come up with different ways to say things and make their writing stand out.
To be a creative writer, you need to be able to think outside the box and come up with new ideas that haven’t been done before. You also need to be able to develop these ideas into full stories and write them in a way that is unique and interesting.
Originality is important in creative writing because it allows you to stand out from the crowd. When you’re writing a story, poem, essay or any other type of creative work, you want to make sure that it’s original so that it can be appreciated for its own merits.
To be original, you don’t have to come up with something completely new. You can take inspiration from other sources and then add your own twist to it. For example, you can take a plot from a movie you saw and then change the characters or setting. Or you can take a line of poetry and change the words or the order that they’re in.
Being original is a great way to impress your readers and win them over.
Fluency is the ability to read a text quickly, accurately and with proper expression. When we read fluently, we are able to focus on the meaning of the text rather than on decoding the words. Fluent readers are also able to understand multiple meanings of words and can use context to determine the correct meaning.
Fluency is an important skill for writers because it allows them to focus on the content of their writing rather than on the mechanics of writing. When writers are able to focus on the content, they are able to produce better writing.
Flexibility is important in creative writing because it allows you to be open to new ideas and to change your mind as you write. It also allows you to experiment with different styles and genres. When you’re flexible, you can try new things without feeling like you have to stick with one style or genre forever.
Flexibility also allows you to be open to feedback. If you’re flexible, you can listen to feedback and consider whether it would be helpful to change something about your writing. If you’re rigid, you might be less likely to take feedback seriously.
Eloquence is the ability to speak or write in a clear and effective way. It’s a skill that all writers need to have, whether they’re writing fiction or non-fiction. When you’re able to eloquently express your ideas, you’re more likely to engage your readers and keep them interested in what you have to say.
Eloquence comes from practice and experience. The more you write, the more comfortable you’ll feel with the written word. You’ll also start to develop your own style and voice. As you become more eloquent, you’ll be able to better communicate your ideas and tell your story.
Persuasion is an important skill for writers because it allows them to convince their readers to see things their way. When you’re able to persuade your readers, you’re able to influence their thinking and behavior. This is a powerful tool and should be used carefully.
To persuade your readers, you need to understand their perspective and then craft a compelling argument that will convince them to see things your way. You also need to understand the different types of persuasion, including ethical and unethical persuasion.
Storytelling is an important skill for writers because it allows them to connect with their readers and tell a compelling story. A good storyteller can capture their audience’s attention and keep them interested in the story. A writer who is skilled at storytelling can use language to create vivid images in the reader’s mind and build suspense.
Storytelling is also an important skill for public speakers. A good speaker can use storytelling to engage their audience and keep their attention. A skilled storyteller can use language to create vivid images in the mind of their audience and build suspense.
Vocabulary is an important skill for creative writers because it allows them to use language in new and interesting ways. A strong vocabulary can help writers to describe things in detail, create interesting characters and settings, and develop complex plots. Additionally, a good vocabulary can help writers to avoid using clichés and to write in a more original way.
Grammar is important in creative writing because it helps you to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely. Good grammar can also help you to build suspense and create a mood in your writing. Additionally, good grammar can help you to avoid common writing mistakes such as run-on sentences, comma splices and comma errors.
How to Improve Your Creative Writing Skills
1. Read, read, read One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read as much as you can. By reading widely, you expose yourself to different styles of writing and different ways of structuring stories and arguments. The more you read, the more you’ll develop an understanding of what makes good writing and what doesn’t.
2. Write, write, write The only way to get better at writing is to do it. The more you write, the more you’ll develop your own style and voice. It’s also important to experiment with different genres and styles of writing to find the one that suits you best.
3. Get feedback One of the best ways to improve your writing is to get feedback from others. Ask a friend or family member to read your work and give you their honest opinion. If you’re a student, ask your teacher for feedback. If you’re a professional writer, consider hiring a developmental editor.
4. Join a writers’ group Joining a writers’ group is a great way to get feedback on your work, as well as to meet other writers and learn from them. Many writers’ groups meet regularly to discuss their work and offer feedback.
5. Take a class Taking a creative writing class is a great way to improve your writing skills. You’ll get feedback from your instructor and your classmates, and you’ll be able to practice your writing in a structured setting.
6. Use prompts Writing prompts are a great way to get your creative juices flowing. By starting with a prompt, you’ll have something to focus your writing on, and you’ll be less likely to get stuck.
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Effective writing advice for aspiring writers
By Idrees Patel
Creative Writing Skills: Do You Have Them All?
Do you know that creative writing isn’t easy?
Silly question, I know. But do you know that there are a certain set of skills which you need to master if you want to be an expert in it?
And the questions that comes out of this are: what are these skills? And are they important?
Read on for the first question. As for the second, of course you already know that the answer is going to be:
To get what “creative writing skills” actually mean for your writing let’s get the big picture first (the definition of creative writing skills ).
Creative writing skills – introduction
Creative writing skills are simply things which you need to know, things which you need to learn to have in your personality. If you don’t have these skills, I won’t say that you don’t have a chance of succeeding, but of course it becomes a lot harder.
Some people can get away with not having these creative writing skills and still being successful enough. But exceptions only prove the rule: if you want to be a pro creative writer, you need to have them, my friend.
The good news for those of us who do want to learn them is that they’re easy to master. They’re easy to grasp. And they’re even easy to remember for a long time.
Okay, so enough talk, let’s get into the main stuff. What are these creative writing skills?
The skills which you need to master
Master the following skills and be an expert creative writer.
- Talent – What, you don’t have talent? I don’t think so. Everyone has talent, whether they realize it or not. After all, what is talent if not passion for one’s craft? Is talent in-born or is it something we have to learn? I believe both. Let me tell you my own story… I was lucky enough to be born with talent. What does this mean? Means I was lucky enough to already have a passion for writing. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to work hard to improve my writing. I did. Everyone has to. If you don’t believe that you have “in-born talent,” just keep writing. Everyone, even a terrible writer (means all of us) can improve their writing easily.
- Persistence – The old debate: skills vs. talent comes to mind. Which is essential? Both again. So what does skills mean? Persistence. Determination. Desire to succeed. A creative writer must have persistence. Success is, after all, merely the absence of failure. If it doesn’t work the first time, no matter. Second time, no matter. Third time, no matter. Fourth time, no matter. Millionth time, likewise. I guarantee… you will see success if you try.
- Patience – There’s no place for “get-rich-quick-seekers” in this world, and likewise, if you have a mentality for “get-published-quick” or “get-success-quick” it won’t work. Period. One has to be patient in writing, goes without saying. (After all, patience is the ticket to success ).
- Ability to face criticism – I know, criticism isn’t great to hear. It’s so nice to hear praise, but when you hear criticism instead, you get all hot and afraid at the same time. But criticism is good. It’s actually great for writers, especially if it gives constructive advice. But once in a while, trolls arrive and harsh criticism is thrown on you. Instead of hitting back, the best thing to do is to face it. So you must have the ability to face criticism.
- Imagination – Imagination is so helpful in writing that even I would sing its praises for days, they still wouldn’t help. Have trouble conjuring ideas? You need to have a bright imagination. You need to imagine… you need to ignore the naysayers. The well known advice is to think outside the box. Just apply it.
- Technical ability – Of all the six creative writing skills, this is quite the easiest. I know what you’re thinking… “what’s technical ability doing in a post about creative writing skills?” Because you need to have some basic ability if you want to write. Pen and paper may continue to work well… but it’s good to also learn the basics of typing (touch typing), web publishing and more.
Phew! Think I got all the creative writing skills. What, you’re telling me that I missed one? I’m all ears… share it in the comments section.
In a nutshell, you really need to know these skills. They aren’t all that hard. They don’t even have anything to do with confusing technical jargon (yeah, if you want to know it, this is my pet hate). So go check whether you have all of the creative writing skills. If you passed all tests, congratulations! And if you didn’t, that’s okay too: keep practising.
Want to learn how to master these skills?
No worries – I’ve got an article coming up on Wednesday that will clear all confusions of how to master these skills. While this post teaches you what the creative writing skills are, part II will teach you how to master them. So stay tuned.
UPDATE : The post is now up! Read Who Else Wants to Master the Creative Writing Skills? .
For more creative writing tips, subscribe to Writers’ Treasure today . You can also leave a comment below.
- Creative Writing vs. Technical Writing
- Who Else Wants to Master the Creative Writing Skills?
- Four Top-Notch Ways to Polish Your Writing Skills with Creative Writing
- Writing Tip: Experiment with Free-writing
- How to Get Started in Creative Writing in Just Three Steps
Idrees Patel is a Bachelor of Management Studies graduate, and is located in India. His goal for Writers’ Treasure to make it a resource which provides in-depth and effective writing advice for writers.
August 30, 2012 at 5:56 AM
What Classes Must You Take In College To Become a Creative Writer.?
September 9, 2012 at 1:16 PM
No idea… search Google?
February 5, 2016 at 8:18 PM
Diploma in Creative Writing from IGNOU, Dehradun.
October 6, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Hey, how can I improve my writing expression? I write very simply. My vocabulary is very simple and sentence structure too.
November 7, 2012 at 9:35 PM
When I was in the first grade, I read every book I could get my hands on, even books made for fifth-graders and up. I suppose I owe most of my vocabulary to that. If I came across a word I didn’t know, I would look it up in the dictionary, and I’d read the definition, then I’d go to the thesaurus and look at the synonyms for that word. Say the word I didn’t understand was “brave”. I’d look up “brave” in the dictionary, and read the definition, then I’d put it into my own words. Then I’d go to the thesaurus and find “brave”. I’d read the synonyms, and then I could say “If I run into “courageous”, I know it means “brave”. I know two words now, brave and courageous. I can use courageous to replace brave if I need to.” Then I’d replace common words like “said” or “happy” with “replied” and “joyful”, or “snapped” and “exalted”. As for sentence structure, I’d suggest using synonyms or “sentence spicers” to add a bit of zing to your sentences. I’d also suggest varying sentence length.
Hope I could help, TG8
November 19, 2012 at 3:11 PM
Great reply, TG8. Thanks for the comments, both of you.
November 5, 2014 at 1:31 PM
Thanks for your wonderful advice 🙂
June 10, 2013 at 2:03 PM
Hello,I am Aleena.I am from Mumbai.I am appearing for Hsc boards this year.I want to pursue a degree in creative writing skill,and believe me or not this post helped me a lot.thanks a ton for that.I am at the beginner level when it comes to writing skills.Can you please advice me what do I do ahead?
June 19, 2013 at 1:55 PM
Hi Aleena, If you are from MUMBAI, India — look up St. Xavier’s College of Communications (5 minutes from VT Station). They conduct CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOPS (6 sessions over six Saturdays). The next one begins on June 22, 2013. Tel (022) 22621366 or email: [email protected] . Be STRONG. Follow YOUR DREAM. WORK HARD. And, NEVER GIVE UP!!! All the best!
June 19, 2013 at 5:51 PM
thank you so much!
August 23, 2014 at 7:33 PM
Hi Aleena, I teach CW one-on-one. You could contact me if you are interested in attending my sessions. Regards, Annabelle
October 18, 2014 at 5:25 AM
Good post! Unfortunately I’m lacking in the creative (imagination) part of creative writing but I keep practicing!
November 20, 2015 at 8:58 AM
My grammer is weak…bt my imagination power is awsme
July 6, 2016 at 1:07 AM
What college do you go to?
September 26, 2016 at 2:45 PM
I have a weak grammar.and i didn’t took up any degree course.. but my imagination is very powerfull. Do u think i have a right to be a writer? I was started writing stories and novel when i was 2nd year high school..up to 4rth year.. after that i stop writing because i focused on my stuties and work.. but i love writing and reading stories, poems and novels…
January 5, 2018 at 1:04 PM
Great article. There is a whole a lot of newly discovered facts that is mentioned here where every writer needs to endorse the advice in your writing skills. These creative writing skills can be explored by one’s own self and I think these articles and blogs are just to make one realize and recognize their own skills.
December 19, 2021 at 10:26 PM
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Creative Writing Skills: 6 Lessons You Need To Teach Today
So, you’re going to teach Creative Writing. Congratulations! Now comes the hard part–what exactly does that mean? What should you be teaching? What skills should your students be learning? In this post, I’m going to share some essential Creative Writing skills you should be teaching in your high school Creative Writing class.
If you’re looking for more tips to teach Creative Writing, check out this post . And if you need help planning the Creative Writing semester, this post should help .
(Looking to skip the planning entirely? Grab all of my Creative Writing skills lessons right here! )
Creative Writing Skills #1: Show. Don’t Tell.
The advice to “show, don’t tell” is some of the oldest and most consistent advice given to young writers. And it’s for a good reason–they really struggle with it!
About half of my students come into Creative Writing with these big elaborate stories they want to tell. But when they actually get into writing, their stories feel more like a list of events that happened.
I’ve seen months of plot happen in just a paragraph of my students’ writing. Students need to learn to slow down and create an experience for their readers. It’s how a story unfolds, after all, that makes it worthwhile–not the events themselves.
Tips for Teaching “Show. Don’t Tell”
Like all creative writing skills, you’ll want to show your students some really good mentor texts first . Find some excerpts from books with really juicy descriptions. Share these with your students.
After they have some examples, give students time to try “telling” an event, description, or emotion instead of “showing” it.
I do this by giving each student a “telling sentence” and asking them to turn it into a “showing” paragraph. A student might get a sentence that says something like, “Billy felt angry.” Then, they’ll have to write a whole paragraph that implies Billy is angry without actually saying it bluntly.
If you want to save yourself some time (and the mental anguish of brainstorming a bunch of bland sentences), you can get my “Show. Don’t Tell” Mini-Lesson right here. It includes a slideshow, student worksheets, and those telling sentences.
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Creative Writing Skills #2: Precise and Concise Language Choice
Now that your students are learning to slow down and offer descriptions in their writing, it’s time to help them focus on their word choice.
Diction is immensely important to a writer–especially when storytelling gets more advanced. A lot of our students want to write down the first words that come to their minds and then “be done.”
But we know great writing doesn’t happen like that. We have to teach our students to find the best word, not the first word–without abusing a thesaurus.
Tips for Teaching Better Word Choice
First, you’ll want to show your students some examples of really great concise and precise word choice. You’ll also want to show some not-so-great examples. The comparison should be eye-opening for your students.
Now, the best way to become more precise in your diction is to improve your vocabulary. We probably can’t make great strides in improving our students’ vocabulary in just a quarter or semester of Creative Writing.
But we can show them how to improve some of the most commonly used vague language . One great example of this is the word “got.”
It’s pretty rare that “got” is the best verb for a situation, but we–and our students–use it all the time. If we can teach students that “got” is a red flag for vague language, that’s a huge step!
We can also teach our students to avoid filler words.
If you need help putting this all together in a lesson, I have a no-prep Precise and Concise Langauge Mini-Lesson right here for you . Included is a slideshow, students worksheets, and a reference handout for students they can use every day.
Creative Writing Skills #3: Dialogue
Your students are starting to put words on a page and–hey–they’re not bad!
But at some point, your students are going to have their characters talk to each other. And this can be when stories get really, really bad.
Early on in your Creative Writing class, encourage your students to start listening to the way others speak. Where do they pause? What slang do they use? When do they use complete sentences and when don’t they? You can even ask students to jot down conversations they overhear.
A great writer has an ear for dialogue, and this skill begins when students become aware of speech around them. Encouraging them to eavesdrop will help them write realistic dialogue later. Just remind them to be respectful. Eavesdropping in the cafeteria is one thing. Listening outside someone’s bedroom door is another.
Our students not only struggle with mimicking real, authentic speech, but they also struggle with punctuating it. Depending on the skill level of your students, you may have to pick your battles here. Cheesy speech might be worth ignoring if there’s no quotation mark in sight.
Tips for Teaching Dialogue Writing
First, and foremost, I like to cover punctuating dialogue first. For one reason, it’s because punctuating dialogue is either right or wrong. It’s easier to learn something that is objective.
For another reason, I, personally, can’t stand reading poorly punctuated dialogue. My English teacher’s eyes just can’t see past it.
Only once the quotation marks, commas, and periods are at least close to the right spot do I focus on trying to improve the content of students’ dialogue.
Students’ dialogue writing is only going to get better through practice and observing real-life speech. However, you can give them some tips for writing dialogue better.
For example, remind your students not to have characters talk too much . I’ve seen stories with pages and pages of dialogue. Each character’s every little “hi,” “‘sup?” and “‘nothin’ much” gets recorded. Let your students know they can skip anything that doesn’t add value to the story.
If you need help planning this lesson, I have a done-for-you Dialogue Mini-lesson right here. It includes a slideshow lesson, worksheets for focusing on both punctuation and craft, and a writing exercise. Get it here.
Creative Writing Skills #4: Mood
If you can only teach your students the above Creative Writing skills, you will no doubt improve their writing tremendously. But if you want to take your students’ writing up a notch, encourage them to think about the mood in their poetry and stories.
Students will no doubt have heard this literary term from their regular English classes, but it’s always worth reviewing first. Plus, they’ve probably read for mood, but creating it is a totally different game.
Tips for Teaching Mood
There are so many ways you can teach your students to create mood. It’s a pretty fun topic!
You might want to begin with some brainstorming. Like, what kind of mood might a horror story have? A comedy? You want students to understand why, as a writer, mastering mood is important to them.
Then, like always, you’ll want to share some solid mentor texts. I love horror stories for showcasing well-written mood, but love poems are also good for this.
Whenever possible in Creative Writing, I like to mix up the media, so I have students first analyze the mood of various classic paintings. As an English teacher, it tickles me to show students that these literary terms apply to art of all kind. Film clips would work really well, too.
Then, challenge students to write a scene and evoke a specific mood. You could randomly assign the mood or let students pick.
In my Mood Mini-Lesson , I have students analyze the mood in painting first. Then, I have them choose a card. Each card has a different mood written on it. Then, students must describe a setting that evokes that mood. You can get this mood lesson for yourself here.
Creative Writing Skills #5: Tone
Well, if you’re going to teach mood, then tone is the likely next skill, right?
Teaching tone and mood is important because their differences are subtle, but important. Until students study tone, they might mistake it for mood and mix the two together.
I never expect my students to master tone. It’s difficult and something that even professional writers polish over the course of many drafts. But it doesn’t hurt to get students thinking about the impact of their word choice.
Don’t forget to remind students of the importance of choosing those precise and concise words. With tone, it’s truly what makes a difference.
Tips for Teaching Tone
After defining tone and showing great examples of it to your students, give them some space to practice identifying it.
I like to cover informal and formal tones–not just emotional tones. Identifying whether a piece of writing is formal or informal is a great first step for students. It’s a little easier but an important skill and might give your students a bit of confidence in their tone-identifying skills.
Once they know what tone looks like, they can try to create it themselves.
The activity I do involves having students write a short scene.
I randomly give my students a tone to use. I also randomly give them a situation. So, a student may have to describe “eating lunch in the cafeteria” with a “romantic” tone. The results can be pretty entertaining!
If that sounds like a lesson you’d like, you can get my Tone Mini-Lesson right here . Includes are a slideshow, students worksheets, and the slips for tones and situations.
And, if you’re teaching mood and tone, I have a FREE Mood and Tone Handout right here!
Creative Writing Skills #6: Voice
I put voice last in this blog post, but it could just as easily have been first. Voice is difficult to define for students, but it’s something they should be working on crafting throughout your whole Creative Writing class.
Even if your students never quite master their literary voice (who does?), it’s a good skill to discuss with them. If students understand the concept of literary voice, it will make them better writers and more analytical readers.
Tips for Teaching Literary Voice
You’ll first have to define voice for your students. This can be challenging. It might be easier to focus on a few aspects of voice–like diction or syntax–in order to explain the concept.
Discuss with students their favorite authors. What does their “voice” sound like? What about the authors you’ve read and studied together?
Give students examples of strong voice to examine (the stronger the better). Have them discuss the techniques and style of each mentor text.
To drive this home, I do a fun activity with my students. I take three very different poems by authors with very different voices. Then, I cut them up, line by line, and mix the three poems together. My students are then tasked with putting the poems back together!
To do this successfully, they’ll have to look for styles that match. Rhyming may be part of one author’s voice, but not another. One author may create a dark mood while another uses humor consistently. It’s a great way to drive home how voice can be an author’s calling card.
This activity and some additional practice are included in my Voice Mini-lesson . Also included is a slideshow to introduce the concept. You can save yourself some time and get the lesson here.
These are some skills that I think are essential for any Creative Writing class. There’s no one right way to teach any of these skills, and teaching from multiple angles is best.
Whenever possible, I like to make my Creative Writing lessons hands-on. Even the most die-hard students get sick of writing every minute of every class.
If you, too, would like some hands-on lessons and short activities that cover these essential skills, check out my Creative Writing Workshops Bundle . Each lesson includes everything you need to teach, model, and help your students master these skills one at a time.
Live chat: a new writing course for the age of artificial intelligence.
(Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)
How is academia dealing with the influence of AI on student writing? Just ask ChatGPT, and it’ll deliver a list of 10 ways in which the rapidly expanding technology is creating both opportunities and challenges for faculty everywhere.
On the one hand, for example, while there are ethical concerns about AI compromising students’ academic integrity, there is also growing awareness of the ways in which AI tools might actually support students in their research and writing.
Students in “Writing Essays with AI,” a new English seminar taught by Yale’s Ben Glaser, are exploring the many ways in which the expanding number of AI tools are influencing written expression, and how they might help or harm their own development as writers.
“ We talk about how large language models are already and will continue to be quite transformative,” Glaser said, “not just of college writing but of communication in general.”
An associate professor of English in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Glaser sat down with Yale News to talk about the need for AI literacy, ChatGPT’s love of lists, and how the generative chatbot helped him write the course syllabus.
Is the object of your new course to explore the way ChatGPT can influence written expression, or is it to instruct students in how to use it ethically? Or both?
Ben Glaser: It’s more the former. None of the final written work for the class is written with ChatGPT or any other large language model or chatbot, although we talk about using AI research tools like Elicit and other things in the research process. Some of the small assignments directly call for students to engage with ChatGPT, get outputs, and then reflect on it. And in that process, they learn how to correctly cite ChatGPT.
The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning has a pretty useful page with AI guidelines. As part of this class, we read that website and talked about whether those guidelines seem to match students’ own experience of usage and what their friends are doing.
Do you think students are confused about how to use ChatGPT ethically? And do you get the sense that they’re using it quite often?
Glaser: I don’t get the sense that they are confused about it in my class because we talk about it all the time. These are students who simultaneously want to understand the technology better, maybe go into that field, and they also want to learn how to write. They don’t think they’re going to learn how to write by using those AI tools better. But they want to think about it.
That’s a very optimistic take, but I think that Yale makes that possible through the resources it has for writing help, and students are often directed to those resources. If you’re in a class where the writing has many stages — drafting, revision — it’s hard to imagine where ChatGPT is going to give you anything good, partly because you’re going to have to revise it so much.
That said, it’s a totally different world if you’re in high school or a large university without those resources. And then of course there are situations that have always led to plagiarism, where you’re strung out at the last minute and you copy something from Google.
What would you say is the proper role for AI in writing?
Glaser: First of all, it’s a really interesting thing to study. That’s not what you’re asking — you’re asking what it can do or where does it belong in a writing process. But when you talk to a chatbot, you get this fuzzy, weird image of culture back. You might get counterpoints to your ideas, and then you need to evaluate whether those counterpoints or supporting evidence for your ideas are actually good ones. There’s no understanding behind the model. It’s based on statistical probabilities — it’s guessing which word comes next. It sometimes does so in a way that speeds things along.
If you say, give me some points and counterpoints in, say, AI use in second-language learning, it might spit out 10 good things and 10 bad things. It loves to give lists. And there’s a kind of literacy to reading those outputs. Students in this class are gaining some of that literacy.
Are you saying it can be used as more of a tool for learning before writing?
Glaser: I don’t love the word brainstorming, but I think there is a moment where you have a blank page, and you think you have a topic, and the process of refining that involves research. ChatGPT’s not the most wonderful research tool, but it sure is an easy one.
I asked it to write the syllabus for this course initially. What it did was it helped me locate some researchers that I didn’t know, it gave me some ideas for units. And then I had to write the whole thing over again, of course. But that was somewhat helpful.
So it can be a jumping off point?
Glaser: It can be. I think that’s a limited and effective use of it in many contexts.
One of my favorite class days was when we went to the library and had a library session. It’s an insanely amazing resource at Yale. Students have personal librarians, if they want them. Also, Yale pays for these massive databases that are curating stuff for the students. The students quickly saw that these resources are probably going to make things go smoother long-term if they know how to use them.
So it's not a simple “AI tool bad, Yale resource good.” You might start with the quickly accessible AI tool, and then go to a librarian, and say, like, here’s a different version of this. And then you’re inside the research process.
Are there creative ways to use ChatGPT in writing?
Glaser: One thing that some writers have done is, if you interact with it long enough, and give it new prompts and develop its outputs, you can get something pretty cool. At that point you’ve done just as much work, and you’ve done a different kind of creative or intellectual project. And I’m all for that. If everything’s cited, and you develop a creative work through some elaborate back-and-forth or programming effort including these tools, you’re just doing something wild and interesting.
Anything else you’d like to say about the course?
Glaser: I’m glad that I could offer a class that students who are coming from computer science and STEM disciplines, but also want to learn how to write, could be excited about. AI-generated language, that’s the new medium of language. The Web is full of it. Part of making students critical consumers and readers is learning to think about AI language as not totally separate from human language, but as this medium, this soup if you want, that we’re floating around in.
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Dominican University of California’s low residency MFA in Creative Writing program invites the public to attend its spring 2022 series of virtual retreats and workshops that will highlight the program’s supportive, creative environment across the genres of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and narrative medicine. The first one in a series of seven free events is February 2, featuring an online creative writing workshop entitled “On Future Worlds” with educator/writer/coach Raina León, professor of English Education at St. Mary’s College. Starting in January 2022, Raina will be a writing mentor in the MFA program and will join the adjunct faculty at Dominican. The MFA is designed to support poets and writers who wish to complete and publish a book manuscript. The focus is on honing students’ writing skills while they learn about the publishing industry. However, since the MFA is recognized as a terminal degree in academe, graduates are eligible to apply for college-level teaching positions. Graduates also are prepared for jobs that require strong writing skills, such as publishing, editing, marketing, public relations, social media and web content strategy. The MFA starts with a residency and runs for two years, for a total of five residencies and four mentorship semesters. All MFA students attend the winter (January) and summer (June) residencies together. During the Fall and Spring mentorship semesters, students are broken out into smaller groups of three to five students per mentor, in accordance with the AWP guidelines and best teaching practices. Here are the free spring 2022 events: February 2 , 6-8 p.m. PST. On Future Worlds . This free workshop presented by Raina León, professor of English Education at St. Mary’s College, has a new date and will include reading news articles that explore potential crises and imagine what inner and outer worlds might emerge, ones that are about flourishing and collective organizing and possibility. The workshop, originally scheduled on January 25, will study science fiction (in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual arts) alongside the news to inspire generative writing from a place of artivism for preservation and action. January 26 , 6-7 p.m. PST. MFA in Creative Writing Program Overview . Led by Dominican MFA Director Judy Halebsky, whether one is a poet looking to hone his/her craft, an aspiring novelist who wants to get that book written, or a memoirist with an urgent story to tell, Dominican’s MFA program will help one achieve his or her writing goals. An admissions counselor will also be available to answer application questions. February 12 , 10-11 a.m. PST. The Nuts and Bolts of Applying to the MFA in Creative Writing Program . A hands-on workshop about putting together an MFA application with guidance and writing prompts to help participants craft their Letter of Intent or Artist Statement. This info session is led by MFA Director Judy Halebsky. An admissions counselor will also be available to answer questions about the program and the application process. February 26 , 10 a.m. to noon PST. Writing To Restore The Self . This free workshop, presented by psychotherapist, teacher, and poet Eliot Schain, will feature writing and discussion about imagery that can help process both positive and negative experience and unite disparate parts of the self. March 12 , 10 a.m. to noon PST. Do the Math: How to Keep Pressing Forward When We Feel Stuck . Join author Kim Culbertson in a free workshop using five specific craft exercises. The workshop will focus on character, POV, conflict, and setting tricks to help when one feels stuck on his/her manuscript. Kim calls it “doing the math” because sometimes one just has to add, subtract, multiply, or divide to get to the root of that writer's block. March 14 , 6-7 p.m. PDT. Putting together a Writing Sample for Applying to MFAs, Grants, and Fellowships. The writing sample is often the most important part of an application to MFA programs, grants or fellowships. This session shares insights into how selection committees read the writing submitted and offers strategies on how to show your best work. Led by MFA Director Judy Halebsky. An admissions counselor will also be available to answer application questions. April 13 , 6-7 p.m. PDT Writing an Artist Statement / Letter of Intent for Applying to MFAs, Grants, and Fellowships. Programs, as well as artist residencies and grants, ask applicants to submit a Letter of Introduction or an Artist Statement. This session will provide approaches to writing this letter and will include writing prompts to help one make a letter that shines. Led by MFA Director Judy Halebsky. An admissions counselor will also be available to answer application questions. For more information about these free events, or to learn more about the MFA in Creative Writing program, please contact Natalie Babler, Administrative Manager in the School of Liberal Arts and Education , at [email protected] .
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Home Numéros 59 1 - Tisser les liens : voyager, e... 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teac...
36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teaching Travel Writing and Mindfulness in the Tradition of Hokusai and Thoreau
L'auteur américain Henry David Thoreau est un écrivain du voyage qui a rarement quitté sa ville natale de Concorde, Massachusetts, où il a vécu de 1817 à 1862. Son approche du "voyage" consiste à accorder une profonde attention à son environnement ordinaire et à voir le monde à partir de perspectives multiples, comme il l'explique avec subtilité dans Walden (1854). Inspiré par Thoreau et par la célèbre série de gravures du peintre d'estampes japonais Katsushika Hokusai, intitulée 36 vues du Mt. Fuji (1830-32), j'ai fait un cours sur "L'écriture thoreauvienne du voyage" à l'Université de l'Idaho, que j'appelle 36 vues des montagnes de Moscow: ou, Faire un grand voyage — l'esprit et le carnet ouvert — dans un petit lieu . Cet article explore la philosophie et les stratégies pédagogiques de ce cours, qui tente de partager avec les étudiants les vertus d'un regard neuf sur le monde, avec les yeux vraiment ouverts, avec le regard d'un voyageur, en "faisant un grand voyage" à Moscow, Idaho. Les étudiants affinent aussi leurs compétences d'écriture et apprennent les traditions littéraires et artistiques associées au voyage et au sens du lieu.
Keywords: , designing a writing class to foster engagement.
1 The signs at the edge of town say, "Entering Moscow, Idaho. Population 25,060." This is a small hamlet in the midst of a sea of rolling hills, where farmers grow varieties of wheat, lentils, peas, and garbanzo beans, irrigated by natural rainfall. Although the town of Moscow has a somewhat cosmopolitan feel because of the presence of the University of Idaho (with its 13,000 students and a few thousand faculty and staff members), elegant restaurants, several bookstores and music stores, and a patchwork of artsy coffee shops on Main Street, the entire mini-metropolis has only about a dozen traffic lights and a single high school. As a professor of creative writing and the environmental humanities at the university, I have long been interested in finding ways to give special focuses to my writing and literature classes that will help my students think about the circumstances of their own lives and find not only academic meaning but personal significance in our subjects. I have recently taught graduate writing workshops on such themes as "The Body" and "Crisis," but when I was given the opportunity recently to teach an undergraduate writing class on Personal and Exploratory Writing, I decided to choose a focus that would bring me—and my students—back to one of the writers who has long been of central interest to me: Henry David Thoreau.
2 One of the courses I have routinely taught during the past six years is Environmental Writing, an undergraduate class that I offer as part of the university's Semester in the Wild Program, a unique undergraduate opportunity that sends a small group of students to study five courses (Ecology, Environmental History, Environmental Writing, Outdoor Leadership and Wilderness Survival, and Wilderness Management and Policy) at a remote research station located in the middle of the largest wilderness area (the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness) in the United States south of Alaska. In "Teaching with Wolves," a recent article about the Semester in the Wild Program, I explained that my goal in the Environmental Writing class is to help the students "synthesize their experience in the wilderness with the content of the various classes" and "to think ahead to their professional lives and their lives as engaged citizens, for which critical thinking and communication skills are so important" (325). A foundational text for the Environmental Writing class is a selection from Thoreau's personal journal, specifically the entries he made October 1-20, 1853, which I collected in the 1993 writing textbook Being in the World: An Environmental Reader for Writers . I ask the students in the Semester in the Wild Program to deeply immerse themselves in Thoreau's precise and colorful descriptions of the physical world that is immediately present to him and, in turn, to engage with their immediate encounters with the world in their wilderness location. Thoreau's entries read like this:
Oct. 4. The maples are reddening, and birches yellowing. The mouse-ear in the shade in the middle of the day, so hoary, looks as if the frost still lay on it. Well it wears the frost. Bumblebees are on the Aster undulates , and gnats are dancing in the air. Oct. 5. The howling of the wind about the house just before a storm to-night sounds extremely like a loon on the pond. How fit! Oct. 6 and 7. Windy. Elms bare. (372)
3 In thinking ahead to my class on Personal and Exploratory Writing, which would be offered on the main campus of the University of Idaho in the fall semester of 2018, I wanted to find a topic that would instill in my students the Thoreauvian spirit of visceral engagement with the world, engagement on the physical, emotional, and philosophical levels, while still allowing my students to remain in the city and live their regular lives as students. It occurred to me that part of what makes Thoreau's journal, which he maintained almost daily from 1837 (when he was twenty years old) to 1861 (just a year before his death), such a rich and elegant work is his sense of being a traveler, even when not traveling geographically.
Traveling a Good Deal in Moscow
I have traveled a good deal in Concord…. --Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; 4)
4 For Thoreau, one did not need to travel a substantial physical distance in order to be a traveler, in order to bring a traveler's frame of mind to daily experience. His most famous book, Walden , is well known as an account of the author's ideas and daily experiments in simple living during the two years, two months, and two days (July 4, 1845, to September 6, 1847) he spent inhabiting a simple wooden house that he built on the shore of Walden Pond, a small lake to the west of Boston, Massachusetts. Walden Pond is not a remote location—it is not out in the wilderness. It is on the edge of a small village, much like Moscow, Idaho. The concept of "traveling a good deal in Concord" is a kind of philosophical and psychological riddle. What does it mean to travel extensively in such a small place? The answer to this question is meaningful not only to teachers hoping to design writing classes in the spirit of Thoreau but to all who are interested in travel as an experience and in the literary genre of travel writing.
5 Much of Walden is an exercise in deftly establishing a playful and intellectually challenging system of synonyms, an array of words—"economy," "deliberateness," "simplicity," "dawn," "awakening," "higher laws," etc.—that all add up to powerful probing of what it means to live a mindful and attentive life in the world. "Travel" serves as a key, if subtle, metaphor for the mindful life—it is a metaphor and also, in a sense, a clue: if we can achieve the traveler's perspective without going far afield, then we might accomplish a kind of enlightenment. Thoreau's interest in mindfulness becomes clear in chapter two of Walden , "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," in which he writes, "Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?" The latter question implies the author's feeling that he is himself merely evolving as an awakened individual, not yet fully awake, or mindful, in his efforts to live "a poetic or divine life" (90). Thoreau proceeds to assert that "We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn…. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor" (90). Just what this endeavor might be is not immediately spelled out in the text, but the author does quickly point out the value of focusing on only a few activities or ideas at a time, so as not to let our lives be "frittered away by detail." He writes: "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; … and keep your accounts on your thumb nail" (91). The strong emphasis in the crucial second chapter of Walden is on the importance of waking up and living deliberately through a conscious effort to engage in particular activities that support such awakening. It occurs to me that "travel," or simply making one's way through town with the mindset of a traveler, could be one of these activities.
6 It is in the final chapter of the book, titled "Conclusion," that Thoreau makes clear the relationship between travel and living an attentive life. He begins the chapter by cataloguing the various physical locales throughout North America or around the world to which one might travel—Canada, Ohio, Colorado, and even Tierra del Fuego. But Thoreau states: "Our voyaging is only great-circle sailing, and the doctors prescribe for diseases of the skin merely. One hastens to Southern Africa to chase the giraffe; but surely that is not the game he would be after." What comes next is brief quotation from the seventeenth-century English poet William Habbington (but presented anonymously in Thoreau's text), which might be one of the most significant passages in the entire book:
Direct your eye sight inward, and you'll find A thousand regions in your mind Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be Expert in home-cosmography. (320)
7 This admonition to travel the mysterious territory of one's own mind and master the strange cosmos of the self is actually a challenge to the reader—and probably to the author himself—to focus on self-reflection and small-scale, local movement as if such activities were akin to exploration on a grand, planetary scale. What is really at issue here is not the physical distance of one's journey, but the mental flexibility of one's approach to the world, one's ability to look at the world with a fresh, estranged point of view. Soon after his discussion of the virtues of interior travel, Thoreau explains why he left his simple home at Walden Pond after a few years of experimental living there, writing, "It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves" (323). In other words, no matter what we're doing in life, we can fall into a "beaten track" if we're not careful, thus failing to stay "awake."
8 As I thought about my writing class at the University of Idaho, I wondered how I might design a series of readings and writing exercises for university students that would somehow emulate the Thoreauvian objective of achieving ultra-mindfulness in a local environment. One of the greatest challenges in designing such a class is the fact that it took Thoreau himself many years to develop an attentiveness to his environment and his own emotional rhythms and an efficiency of expression that would enable him to describe such travel-without-travel, and I would have only sixteen weeks to achieve this with my own students. The first task, I decided, was to invite my students into the essential philosophical stance of the class, and I did this by asking my students to read the opening chapter of Walden ("Economy") in which he talks about traveling "a good deal" in his small New England village as well as the second chapter and the conclusion, which reveal the author's enthusiasm (some might even say obsession ) for trying to achieve an awakened condition and which, in the end, suggest that waking up to the meaning of one's life in the world might be best accomplished by attempting the paradoxical feat of becoming "expert in home-cosmography." As I stated it among the objectives for my course titled 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Or, Traveling a Good Deal—with Open Minds and Notebooks—in a Small Place , one of our goals together (along with practicing nonfiction writing skills and learning about the genre of travel writing) would be to "Cultivate a ‘Thoreauvian' way of appreciating the subtleties of the ordinary world."
Windy. Elms Bare.
9 For me, the elegance and heightened sensitivity of Thoreau's engagement with place is most movingly exemplified in his journal, especially in the 1850s after he's mastered the art of observation and nuanced, efficient description of specific natural phenomena and environmental conditions. His early entries in the journal are abstract mini-essays on such topics as truth, beauty, and "The Poet," but over time the journal notations become so immersed in the direct experience of the more-than-human world, in daily sensory experiences, that the pronoun "I" even drops out of many of these records. Lawrence Buell aptly describes this Thoreauvian mode of expression as "self-relinquishment" (156) in his 1995 book The Environmental Imagination , suggesting such writing "question[s] the authority of the superintending consciousness. As such, it opens up the prospect of a thoroughgoing perceptual breakthrough, suggesting the possibility of a more ecocentric state of being than most of us have dreamed of" (144-45). By the time Thoreau wrote "Windy. Elms bare" (372) as his single entry for October 6 and 7, 1853, he had entered what we might call an "ecocentric zone of consciousness" in his work, attaining the ability to channel his complex perceptions of season change (including meteorology and botany and even his own emotional state) into brief, evocative prose.
10 I certainly do not expect my students to be able to do such writing after only a brief introduction to the course and to Thoreau's own methods of journal writing, but after laying the foundation of the Thoreauvian philosophy of nearby travel and explaining to my students what I call the "building blocks of the personal essay" (description, narration, and exposition), I ask them to engage in a preliminary journal-writing exercise that involves preparing five journal entries, each "a paragraph or two in length," that offer detailed physical descriptions of ordinary phenomena from their lives (plants, birds, buildings, street signs, people, food, etc.), emphasizing shape, color, movement or change, shadow, and sometimes sound, smell, taste, and/or touch. The goal of the journal entries, I tell the students, is to begin to get them thinking about close observation, vivid descriptive language, and the potential to give their later essays in the class an effective texture by balancing more abstract information and ideas with evocative descriptive passages and storytelling.
11 I am currently teaching this class, and I am writing this article in early September, as we are entering the fourth week of the semester. The students have just completed the journal-writing exercise and are now preparing to write the first of five brief essays on different aspects of Moscow that will eventually be braided together, as discrete sections of the longer piece, into a full-scale literary essay about Moscow, Idaho, from the perspective of a traveler. For the journal exercise, my students wrote some rather remarkable descriptive statements, which I think bodes well for their upcoming work. One student, Elizabeth Isakson, wrote stunning journal descriptions of a cup of coffee, her own feet, a lemon, a basil leaf, and a patch of grass. For instance, she wrote:
Steaming hot liquid poured into a mug. No cream, just black. Yet it appears the same brown as excretion. The texture tells another story with meniscus that fades from clear to gold and again brown. The smell is intoxicating for those who are addicted. Sweetness fills the nostrils; bitterness rushes over the tongue. The contrast somehow complements itself. Earthy undertones flower up, yet this beverage is much more satisfying than dirt. When the mug runs dry, specks of dark grounds remain swimming in the sunken meniscus. Steam no longer rises because energy has found a new home.
12 For the grassy lawn, she wrote:
Calico with shades of green, the grass is yellowing. Once vibrant, it's now speckled with straw. Sticking out are tall, seeding dandelions. Still some dips in the ground have maintained thick, soft patches of green. The light dances along falling down from the trees above, creating a stained-glass appearance made from various green shades. The individual blades are stiff enough to stand erect, but they will yield to even slight forces of wind or pressure. Made from several long strands seemingly fused together, some blades fray at the end, appearing brittle. But they do not simply break off; they hold fast to the blade to which they belong.
13 The point of this journal writing is for the students to look closely enough at ordinary reality to feel estranged from it, as if they have never before encountered (or attempted to describe) a cup of coffee or a field of grass—or a lemon or a basil leaf or their own body. Thus, the Thoreauvian objective of practicing home-cosmography begins to take shape. The familiar becomes exotic, note-worthy, and strangely beautiful, just as it often does for the geographical travel writer, whose adventures occur far away from where she or he normally lives. Travel, in a sense, is an antidote to complacency, to over-familiarity. But the premise of my class in Thoreauvian travel writing is that a slight shift of perspective can overcome the complacency we might naturally feel in our home surroundings. To accomplish this we need a certain degree of disorientation. This is the next challenge for our class.
The Blessing of Being Lost
14 Most of us take great pains to "get oriented" and "know where we're going," whether this is while running our daily errands or when thinking about the essential trajectories of our lives. We're often instructed by anxious parents to develop a sense of purpose and a sense of direction, if only for the sake of basic safety. But the traveler operates according to a somewhat different set of priorities, perhaps, elevating adventure and insight above basic comfort and security, at least to some degree. This certainly seems to be the case for the Thoreauvian traveler, or for Thoreau himself. In Walden , he writes:
…not until we are completely lost, or turned round,--for a man needs only be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost,--do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature. Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations. (171)
15 I could explicate this passage at length, but that's not really my purpose here. I read this as a celebration of salutary disorientation, of the potential to be lost in such a way as to deepen one's ability to pay attention to oneself and one's surroundings, natural and otherwise. If travel is to a great degree an experience uniquely capable of triggering attentiveness to our own physical and psychological condition, to other cultures and the minds and needs of other people, and to a million small details of our environment that we might take for granted at home but that accrue special significance when we're away, I would argue that much of this attentiveness is owed to the sense of being lost, even the fear of being lost, that often happens when we leave our normal habitat.
16 So in my class I try to help my students "get lost" in a positive way. Here in Moscow, the major local landmark is a place called Moscow Mountain, a forested ridge of land just north of town, running approximately twenty kilometers to the east of the city. Moscow "Mountain" does not really have a single, distinctive peak like a typical mountain—it is, as I say, more of a ridge than a pinnacle. When I began contemplating this class on Thoreauvian travel writing, the central concepts I had in mind were Thoreau's notion of traveling a good deal in Concord and also the idea of looking at a specific place from many different angles. The latter idea is not only Thoreauvian, but perhaps well captured in the eighteen-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai's series of woodblock prints known as 36 Views of Mt. Fuji , which offers an array of different angles on the mountain itself and on other landscape features (lakes, the sea, forests, clouds, trees, wind) and human behavior which is represented in many of the prints, often with Mt. Fuji in the distant background or off to the side. In fact, I imagine Hokusai's approach to representing Mt. Fuji as so important to the concept of this travel writing class that I call the class "36 Views of Moscow Mountain," symbolizing the multiple approaches I'll be asking my students to take in contemplating and describing not only Moscow Mountain itself, but the culture and landscape and the essential experience of Moscow the town. The idea of using Hokusai's series of prints as a focal point of this class came to me, in part, from reading American studies scholar Cathy Davidson's 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan , a memoir that offers sixteen short essays about different facets of her life as a visiting professor in that island nation.
17 The first of five brief essays my students will prepare for the class is what I'm calling a "Moscow Mountain descriptive essay," building upon the small descriptive journal entries they've written recently. In this case, though, I am asking the students to describe the shapes and colors of the Moscow Mountain ridge, while also telling a brief story or two about their observations of the mountain, either by visiting the mountain itself to take a walk or a bike ride or by explaining how they glimpse portions of the darkly forested ridge in the distance while walking around the University of Idaho campus or doing things in town. In preparation for the Moscow Mountain essays, we read several essays or book chapters that emphasize "organizing principles" in writing, often the use of particular landscape features, such as trees or mountains, as a literary focal point. For instance, in David Gessner's "Soaring with Castro," from his 2007 book Soaring with Fidel: An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond , he not only refers to La Gran Piedra (a small mountain in southeastern Cuba) as a narrative focal point, but to the osprey, or fish eagle, itself and its migratory journey as an organizing principle for his literary project (203). Likewise, in his essay "I Climb a Tree and Become Dissatisfied with My Lot," Chicago author Leonard Dubkin writes about his decision, as a newly fired journalist, to climb up a tree in Chicago's Lincoln Park to observe and listen to the birds that gather in the green branches in the evening, despite the fact that most adults would consider this a strange and inappropriate activity. We also looked at several of Hokusai's woodblock prints and analyzed these together in class, trying to determine how the mountain served as an organizing principle for each print or whether there were other key features of the prints—clouds, ocean waves, hats and pieces of paper floating in the wind, humans bent over in labor—that dominate the images, with Fuji looking on in the distance.
18 I asked my students to think of Hokusai's representations of Mt. Fuji as aesthetic models, or metaphors, for what they might try to do in their brief (2-3 pages) literary essays about Moscow Mountain. What I soon discovered was that many of my students, even students who have spent their entire lives in Moscow, either were not aware of Moscow Mountain at all or had never actually set foot on the mountain. So we spent half an hour during one class session, walking to a vantage point on the university campus, where I could point out where the mountain is and we could discuss how one might begin to write about such a landscape feature in a literary essay. Although I had thought of the essay describing the mountain as a way of encouraging the students to think about a familiar landscape as an orienting device, I quickly learned that this will be a rather challenging exercise for many of the students, as it will force them to think about an object or a place that is easily visible during their ordinary lives, but that they typically ignore. Paying attention to the mountain, the ridge, will compel them to reorient themselves in this city and think about a background landscape feature that they've been taking for granted until now. I think of this as an act of disorientation or being lost—a process of rethinking their own presence in this town that has a nearby mountain that most of them seldom think about. I believe Thoreau would consider this a good, healthy experience, a way of being present anew in a familiar place.
36 Views—Or, When You Invert Your Head
19 Another key aspect of Hokusai's visual project and Thoreau's literary project is the idea of changing perspective. One can view Mt. Fuji from 36 different points of views, or from thousands of different perspectives, and it is never quite the same place—every perspective is original, fresh, mind-expanding. The impulse to shift perspective in pursuit of mindfulness is also ever-present in Thoreau's work, particularly in his personal journal and in Walden . This idea is particularly evident, to me, in the chapter of Walden titled "The Ponds," where he writes:
Standing on the smooth sandy beach at the east end of the pond, in a calm September afternoon, when a slight haze makes the opposite shore line indistinct, I have seen whence came the expression, "the glassy surface of a lake." When you invert your head, it looks like a thread of finest gossamer stretched across the valley, and gleaming against the distinct pine woods, separating one stratum of the atmosphere from another. (186)
20 Elsewhere in the chapter, Thoreau describes the view of the pond from the top of nearby hills and the shapes and colors of pebbles in the water when viewed from close up. He chances physical perspective again and again throughout the chapter, but it is in the act of looking upside down, actually suggesting that one might invert one's head, that he most vividly conveys the idea of looking at the world in different ways in order to be lost and awakened, just as the traveler to a distant land might feel lost and invigorated by such exposure to an unknown place.
21 After asking students to write their first essay about Moscow Mountain, I give them four additional short essays to write, each two to four pages long. We read short examples of place-based essays, some of them explicitly related to travel, and then the students work on their own essays on similar topics. The second short essay is about food—I call this the "Moscow Meal" essay. We read the final chapter of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), "The Perfect Meal," and Anthony Bourdain's chapter "Where Cooks Come From" in the book A Cook's Tour (2001) are two of the works we study in preparation for the food essay. The three remaining short essays including a "Moscow People" essay (exploring local characters are important facets of the place), a more philosophical essay about "the concept of Moscow," and a final "Moscow Encounter" essay that tells the story of a dramatic moment of interaction with a person, an animal, a memorable thing to eat or drink, a sunset, or something else. Along the way, we read the work of Wendell Berry, Joan Didion, Barbara Kingsolver, Kim Stafford, Paul Theroux, and other authors. Before each small essay is due, we spend a class session holding small-group workshops, allowing the students to discuss their essays-in-progress with each other and share portions of their manuscripts. The idea is that they will learn about writing even by talking with each other about their essays. In addition to writing about Moscow from various angles, they will learn about additional points of view by considering the angles of insight developed by their fellow students. All of this is the writerly equivalent of "inverting [their] heads."
Beneath the Smooth Skin of Place
22 Aside from Thoreau's writing and Hokusai's images, perhaps the most important writer to provide inspiration for this class is Indiana-based essayist Scott Russell Sanders. Shortly after introducing the students to Thoreau's key ideas in Walden and to the richness of his descriptive writing in the journal, I ask them to read his essay "Buckeye," which first appeared in Sanders's Writing from the Center (1995). "Buckeye" demonstrates the elegant braiding together of descriptive, narrative, and expository/reflective prose, and it also offers a strong argument about the importance of creating literature and art about place—what he refers to as "shared lore" (5)—as a way of articulating the meaning of a place and potentially saving places that would otherwise be exploited for resources, flooded behind dams, or otherwise neglected or damaged. The essay uses many of the essential literary devices, ranging from dialogue to narrative scenes, that I hope my students will practice in their own essays, while also offering a vivid argument in support of the kind of place-based writing the students are working on.
23 Another vital aspect of our work together in this class is the effort to capture the wonderful idiosyncrasies of this place, akin to the idiosyncrasies of any place that we examine closely enough to reveal its unique personality. Sanders's essay "Beneath the Smooth Skin of America," which we study together in Week 9 of the course, addresses this topic poignantly. The author challenges readers to learn the "durable realities" of the places where they live, the details of "watershed, biome, habitat, food-chain, climate, topography, ecosystem and the areas defined by these natural features they call bioregions" (17). "The earth," he writes, "needs fewer tourists and more inhabitants" (16). By Week 9 of the semester, the students have written about Moscow Mountain, about local food, and about local characters, and they are ready at this point to reflect on some of the more philosophical dimensions of living in a small academic village surrounded by farmland and beyond that surrounded by the Cascade mountain range to the West and the Rockies to the East. "We need a richer vocabulary of place" (18), urges Sanders. By this point in the semester, by reading various examples of place-based writing and by practicing their own powers of observation and expression, my students will, I hope, have developed a somewhat richer vocabulary to describe their own experiences in this specific place, a place they've been trying to explore with "open minds and notebooks." Sanders argues that
if we pay attention, we begin to notice patterns in the local landscape. Perceiving those patterns, acquiring names and theories and stories for them, we cease to be tourists and become inhabitants. The bioregional consciousness I am talking about means bearing your place in mind, keeping track of its condition and needs, committing yourself to its care. (18)
24 Many of my students will spend only four or five years in Moscow, long enough to earn a degree before moving back to their hometowns or journeying out into the world in pursuit of jobs or further education. Moscow will be a waystation for some of these student writers, not a permanent home. Yet I am hoping that this semester-long experiment in Thoreauvian attentiveness and place-based writing will infect these young people with both the bioregional consciousness Sanders describes and a broader fascination with place, including the cultural (yes, the human ) dimensions of this and any other place. I feel such a mindfulness will enrich the lives of my students, whether they remain here or move to any other location on the planet or many such locations in succession.
25 Toward the end of "Beneath the Smooth Skin of America," Sanders tells the story of encountering a father with two young daughters near a city park in Bloomington, Indiana, where he lives. Sanders is "grazing" on wild mulberries from a neighborhood tree, and the girls are keen to join him in savoring the local fruit. But their father pulls them away, stating, "Thank you very much, but we never eat anything that grows wild. Never ever." To this Sanders responds: "If you hold by that rule, you will not get sick from eating poison berries, but neither will you be nourished from eating sweet ones. Why not learn to distinguish one from the other? Why feed belly and mind only from packages?" (19-20). By looking at Moscow Mountain—and at Moscow, Idaho, more broadly—from numerous points of view, my students, I hope, will nourish their own bellies and minds with the wild fruit and ideas of this place. I say this while chewing a tart, juicy, and, yes, slightly sweet plum that I pulled from a feral tree in my own Moscow neighborhood yesterday, an emblem of engagement, of being here.
BUELL, Lawrence, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture , Harvard University Press, 1995.
DAVIDSON, Cathy, 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan , Duke University Press, 2006.
DUBKIN, Leonard, "I Climb a Tree and Become Dissatisfied with My Lot." Enchanted Streets: The Unlikely Adventures of an Urban Nature Lover , Little, Brown and Company, 1947, 34-42.
GESSNER, David, Soaring with Fidel: An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond , Beacon, 2007.
ISAKSON, Elizabeth, "Journals." Assignment for 36 Views of Moscow Mountain (English 208), University of Idaho, Fall 2018.
SANDERS, Scott Russell, "Buckeye" and "Beneath the Smooth Skin of America." Writing from the Center , Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 1-8, 9-21.
SLOVIC, Scott, "Teaching with Wolves", Western American Literature 52.3 (Fall 2017): 323-31.
THOREAU, Henry David, "October 1-20, 1853", Being in the World: An Environmental Reader for Writers , edited by Scott H. Slovic and Terrell F. Dixon, Macmillan, 1993, 371-75.
THOREAU, Henry David, Walden . 1854. Princeton University Press, 1971.
Scott Slovic , “ 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teaching Travel Writing and Mindfulness in the Tradition of Hokusai and Thoreau ” , Caliban , 59 | 2018, 41-54.
Scott Slovic , “ 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teaching Travel Writing and Mindfulness in the Tradition of Hokusai and Thoreau ” , Caliban [Online], 59 | 2018, Online since 01 June 2018 , connection on 23 November 2023 . URL : http://journals.openedition.org/caliban/3688; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/caliban.3688
About the author
University of Idaho Scott Slovic is University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Humanities at the University of Idaho, USA. The author and editor of many books and articles, he edited the journal ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment from 1995 to 2020. His latest coedited book is The Routledge Handbook of Ecocriticism and Environmental Communication (2019).
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Reading by Kwame Dawes and Princeton Creative Writing Seniors on November 28
- Creative Writing
Critic, editor, and prize-winning poet reads next in the 2023-24 C.K. Williams Reading Series organized by Princeton’s creative writing students
Critic, editor, and prize-winning poet Kwame Dawes, author of twenty books of poetry including the forthcoming collection Sturge Town (Norton, 2024), will read from his work at 5:30 p.m. on November 28 in the Godfrey Kerr Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton University campus. Ashley Hyun, Sal Kang, Sabrina Kim, Abbie Lambert, Kate Lee, and Ellen Li, seniors in Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing, will also read from their recent work. This event continues the 2023-2024 C.K. Williams Reading Series, named after the late Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning poet C.K. Williams, who served on Princeton’s faculty for 20 years. The series showcases senior students of the Program in Creative Writing alongside established writers as special guests. The event is free and open to the public; however, tickets are required. Reserve tickets through University Ticketing . The Godfrey Kerr Studio is an accessible venue, and guests in need of access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at Lewi[email protected] at least one week prior to the event date.
Kwame Dawes. Photo Credit: A. Lambertson
Kwame Dawes, born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, is a writer of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and plays. Among his many awards and honors are the Forward Prize for Poetry (1994), a Pushcart Prize (2001), the Musgrave Medal (2004), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012), and the Windham-Campbell Prize for Poetry (2019). Dawes has also published two novels, edited several anthologies, and his essays have appeared in Bomb Magazine, The London Review of Books, Granta, Essence, World Literature Today, The Washington Post, USA Today , and elsewhere. He won an Emmy in 2009 for his contributions to the multimedia project, HOPE: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica , for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. In 2022, Dawes was a finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature and was awarded the Order of Distinction Commander class by the Government of Jamaica. Currently, Dawes is a George W. Holmes University Professor of English and teaches in the Pacific MFA Program. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a former Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets. In addition, Dawes is the Series Editor of the African Poetry Book Series, Director of the African Poetry Book Fund, and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. He blogs regularly for the Poetry Foundation.
The six seniors who will read from their work are among 31 Princeton students pursuing certificates in creative writing in addition to their major areas of study. Each is currently working on a novel, a screenplay, translations, or a collection of poems or short stories as part of their creative independent work for the certificate. Starting with the Class of 2025, students can earn a minor in creative writing, rather than a certificate, but will continue to complete a significant creative independent work. Students in the Program in Creative Writing work closely with a member of the faculty, which includes award-winning writers Michael Dickman, Katie Farris, Aleksandar Hemon, A.M. Homes, Ilya Kaminsky, Christina Lazaridi, Yiyun Li, Paul Muldoon, Patricia Smith, Susan Wheeler, and a number of distinguished lecturers and visiting professors.
Additional readings in the 2023-24 series include:
- Vauhini Vara on February 13
- Jake Skeets on March 19
Visit the Lewis Center website to learn more about the reading series, the Program in Creative Writing, and the more than 100 public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, and lectures presented each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts, most of them free.
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Lewis Center for the Arts presents When Pages Breathe, a series of events highlighting oral interpretation of literary works
C.K. Williams Reading by Kwame Dawes
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A Literary Tour of Moscow
It’s hard to count the exact number of great Russian writers who showed their love for Moscow. The city has attracted and prompted stories for a long time now, inspiring many to express their writing talent. Thus, Moscow’s literary sights are fully deserving of our attention, and this guide gladly presents you six of them, from museums to apartments.
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The State Museum of Mayakovsky
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Cemetery, Monastery, Museum
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