Beyond 10 Books: Thoughts on Damn Fine Story

Now that the 10 books project is over, I’m ready to start venturing beyond that particular list to start looking at a wider range of books on writing, storytelling, and creativity to see what, if anything, they have to say about the role of research in the creative process. Today it’s Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig.

I’ve been a fan of Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog for quite a while now and, in fact, some of the writing-related posts on there by both Wendig and some of his guest authors are a big part of what inspired the original 10 books project and my current research path.  So when I saw that he’d published (another) book about writing, I was really excited.

But it actually took me a while to read Damn Fine Story partly because for some reason none of the libraries in my library system had a copy (for shame!) and that’s how I usually get my books. In the end, if I’d gotten this book from the library, I probably would have bought a copy anyway after reading it.

Here are some thoughts.

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Thoughts on Box Office Poison

Image by Igor Ovsyannykov from Pixabay

In trying to understand the role of research in creative writing, I’ve taken something of a detour into research on creative writing pedagogy and the history of English as an academic subject. This information is helping me understand the larger context of how creative writing is taught and why conversations about the role of research may not be part of those teachings.

Anyway, one of the first books I found on the subject was Can It Really Be Taught?: Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy, a collection of critical essays edited by Kelly Ritter and Stephanie Vanderslice that was published in 2007. A lot of the essays, particularly ones that come early in the book, are fascinating explorations of why creative writing is taught the way it is and why, in the authors’ opinions, that needs to change. It reminded me a lot of conversations I’ve seen in the library and information science field about how information literacy is taught.

Toward the back of the book is an essay by Wendy Bishop (to whom the book is also dedicated) and Stephen Armstrong called “Box Office Poison: The Influence of Writers in Film on Writers (in Graduate Programs)” which, as the title suggests, is an analysis of how the act of writing is portrayed in cinema.

Or, more accurately, how it is not portrayed.

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Studies of Research: Understanding Graduate Students’ Knowledge About Research Data Management

I’ve mentioned before that one of the cool things about the study of research is that it’s already out there, in so many forms and in so many fields (not just library and information science!), even if that’s not what the researchers doing this work would necessarily call it. I saw a lot of examples of this at the ACRL 2019 Conference and I wanted to spend some time here taking a closer look at a few of them.

I hope the researchers whose work I plan to talk about for this series don’t mind that I’ll be applying the “study of research” label to what they do, but in each case I’ll try to make it clear why I’m doing that.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at “Understanding Graduate Students’ Knowledge About Research Data Management: Workflows, Challenges, and the Role of the Library” by Gesina A. Phillips, Rebekah S. Miller, and Cathryn F. Miller.

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Magicians and libraries that aren’t libraries

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(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the television show The Magicians through the end of its fourth season)

I spent some time recently watching the first few seasons of The Magicians. Yes, I’m still getting over that ending. But I also felt the need to comment on the Library and libraries on pop culture in general.

In the show,(1) the Library is its own world (hence the capitalization). Sort of like the library in the two-part episode of Doctor Who “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” but without the carnivorous shadow monsters. Probably. The Library is overseen by Zelda, the Head Librarian, who is played by Mageina Tovah.(2) She is very protective of the books in her collection. So much so that when two of the characters break the Library’s rules about touching the books, they are banished from the Library forever. Which seems fair since the books in the Library contain all of the knowledge in the universe and are also one of a kind.

So the Library is not, in fact, a library. It’s an archive.

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Research begins with curiosity

Image by Ronald Plett from Pixabay

When I give students a research project, the first thing I ask them to do is propose a set of three topics. For my freshman seminar students, the three topics should be related to a question they still have about college life. For my information literacy students, the focus is on their role as information creators. The reason I ask for three is partly to increase the chances that one of their ideas will be researchable. The second is to try to force some creativity. Coming up with one idea might be easy. Coming up with three? That takes a little more thinking.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work. About 80-90% of the topics students propose are standard academic research topics, ones that they probably think will get them a good grade rather than things they are actually interested in pursuing. Not exactly on the level of topics that get banned because professors are tired of reading about them, but in that same vein.

A course instructor I once worked with had the same issue. She wanted her students to write about topics that interested them or that were fun for them. I tried to model this in the session I taught for her students by using an example research topic related to Doctor Who. But most of them were writing about things like the legalization of marijuana, video game violence, and whether college athletes should get paid. In other words, the kind of essay topics that typically show up on state tests.

Now, it could be that the students had some genuine interest in these topics but it was also obvious that these topics were not fun for them. This despite the fact that their professor and I both encouraged them to pick fun ideas.

Why the disconnect?

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