Saturday, June 5, 2010

Freewriting Across Genres is Off to a Good Start

I'm very pleased to announce the start to our summer workshops with Freewriting Across Genres, which began yesterday.  To give an idea of the scope and direction of the course, here's a selection from the teaching material...


Within creative writing, we lump together related works into the rather flexible idea of "genre."  Anything with pre-defined line breaks and the possibility of rhyme and/or meter is listed as poetry.  A prose piece involving real events taken from memory becomes memoir.  Anything written in prose with manufactured events is listed as fiction.

Yet we shouldn't remain overly focused on the idea of genre.  Although writers are often referred to as "he's a poet" or "she's a novelist," the act of writing itself is more important than the choice of style.  When it comes to inspiration - the source and the purpose for our work - genre becomes simply a tool for fitting the right expression to our meaning.

For this course, we'll look at how inspiration bridges the differences between genres.  In a way, all literature is derived from memoir - we write from memory, and memory can be a fluid, nebulous thing.  When our observations give sharp, incisive ideas, we often use poetry because the combination of rhythm and brevity can be used to cast indelible images in the reader's mind.  Sometimes, though, we hope to maintain the tapestry of a complete life while disguising our own personal experiences (or a lack thereof) - in this case we change the identifying details and call it fiction.  In both cases, we use poetry and fiction to express the truth about life - the personal truth which is unique to each author.

The prompts for this week's course are tailored to fiction, poetry, and memoir, but you'll find that the techniques here can also be applied to other areas of writing.  Although we won't specifically address the genre of drama, you can easily see how a play could integrate aspects of all three genres - Shakespeare's plays are very poetic, The Diary of Anne Frank has been adapted from the most personal form of memoir, and blockbuster movies are regularly derived from novels.  The main difference is that drama restricts itself to dialogue, and then the physical actions of the actors and the props of the stage fill in the unspoken details.

Going further, freewriting can also help in writing personal essays and even nonfiction.  As we go through this week's exercises, note that we are focused less on crafting a story and more on getting the ideas out onto the page.  A list of foods, for example, could help you write an article on the neighborhood grocery store - there's a difference between corn that arrives in wooden crates off the back of a beat-up old pickup truck and the kind that's pre-packed in plastic and then stacked on palettes in the back of a semi.  Yet there might be so many foods that it would be hard to figure out which ones go together - it could help to draw out a visual web, drawing lines to connect the grocer to the employees, and then connecting each employee to the types of food he or she handles most (Mark - sirloin, ground chuck, chicken gizzards; Sheila - shrimp, salmon, the lobster tank).

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