Guitar playing as creative research

Image by Kari Shea from Pixabay

So a few weeks ago I talked about my new adventures in creative research, something I’m taking on to supplement my scholarly investigations into the role of research in creative writing. Long story short: creative research (i.e. research to enhance a creative work) is something I’ve never engaged in much myself because the creative writing I do is more for fun than Serious Work, but I wanted to try it out as part of a revision of a novel-length story I completed the first draft of a few months ago.

I talked before about how two of the characters in that story work in a bar and how I ended up doing research using internet sources like YouTube and to try to add a little authenticity to the work they do in the story and how they each think and talk about their work. In this case, I wasn’t able to go to the location the bar in the story is loosely based on because of COVID and time issues, but I was able to learn enough from the internet to improve the generic BS about bartending and cocktails that was in the original draft.

So I’m still working on that same project. In addition to working in a bar, the characters in question also play music. Specifically, guitar. One is in a band, the other is just starting to learn. This has been another area of research but it’s one where I’ve managed to reap the benefits of hands-on, in-person research rather than just scrolling the internet.

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Concept mapping and why I don’t like to teach it

I wouldn’t say that everything I teach students about research is lies, but there is admittedly a lot that I teach them that I don’t necessarily practice myself. In my own course, I’m open with students about that fact. For example, students in my classes know that I, like them, rarely create my own citations from scratch. Not because I don’t understand how to construct a citation, but because a lot of the scholarly articles I write have dozens of citations in them and frankly who has time for that? Instead, I use whatever citation is generated by the database where I found the source and then edit it to match the quirky preferences of the journal I’m hoping to submit to. The rest is the work of diligent copyeditors.

Other supposed sins I commit: I use Wikipedia all the time and generally trust the information I find there. I almost never go past the first page or two of search results on Google. And I rarely do all (or even most) of my research before I start to write something.

Arguably, the difference between me committing these sins and students doing the same thing is that I have the experience and expertise to understand (and hopefully avoid or at least make peace with) the potential pitfalls of what I’m doing. Students are still developing the skills and knowledge necessary to be able to do that.

But really my main message to students is that there’s no one right way to do research. Everyone has their own approach and just because that approach doesn’t match the rigid ideas they learned about from some librarian (like me) or some professor, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

That’s what I do in my own course. When I teach one-shot sessions, things are different in part because I’m constrained by the course instructor’s expectations about what they want students to learn as part of the instruction I’m giving them. Since the instructor is the expert on their students and the assignment they’ll be working on, I tend not to push back too much. Even when I think what they want me to teach is stupid.

Like concept maps. I think concept maps are stupid.

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On doing external reviews

In the time since I got tenure myself in 2019, I’ve been asked to do a small handful of external reviews for promotion and tenure cases at other institutions, about 1-2 a year. For some reason, the prospect of writing external reviews for outside cases wasn’t something I thought much about as a possibility until I was being asked to do it. As with every other new professional endeavor, conducting these has definitely been a learning experience.

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What I’m reading: March 2022

Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month. 

Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Note: The following post contains spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West (PS4 game), Chameleon: Wild Boys (podcast), and Game of Thrones (the TV series)

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Teaching the contextual nature of research: lessons learned

Last week, I reflected on some of the successes I experienced while teaching my first information literacy course focused on the contextual nature of research. In this course, I based units on different types of research (academic/scholarly, personal, professional, creative, scientific) and asked students to produce both examples of academic/scholarly work and another type of research of their choice. Overall, the course really did go well but there were definitely some difficulties too, both expected and not.

First, I was surprised and pleased that the students in this class had an easier time grasping what creative research is than students in past courses where I’ve brought up this idea. In the past, when I talk to students about creative research, they express confusion. They want to know: isn’t all research creative? And when I tell them that, yes, all types of research can be creative but not all research is creative research, it doesn’t always quite sink in. To be fair, the course is short and back then I wasn’t spending quite as much time explaining the different types of research to students—only telling them that there were, in fact, different types.

The students in this course really seemed to get creative research and for their second project a few of them even submitted examples of creative research products (including drawings they’d made, photos they’d taken, and poems they’d written) with some great reflections on the role research played in these projects. I was very happy!

But there was still one type of research that students didn’t seem to get: professional research. This surprised me. A lot.

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Teaching the contextual nature of research: What went well

Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay

So this semester, I got my first opportunity to really put my money where my mouth is with all this talk about the importance of teaching research as a context-based activity with a new (to me) course where I planned units around the different types of research I’ve written about elsewhere: academic, creative, personal, professional, scholarly, and scientific. These are ideas I’ve incorporated into my teaching in different ways before but this was my first time teaching a full course that was really focused on approaching information literacy through this lens. I was a bit nervous about how it would work out, especially since I just published a book where I talk about how great my teaching ideas are without having been able to use a lot of them myself.

So how did it go?

Mostly, it went surprisingly great. For the most part students really seemed to respond to and enjoy learning about the different research contexts that they have participated in or will participate in over the course of their lives and where college-level academic research fits into all of that. That said, there were also some definite challenges, both expected and not.

For this post, I’ll be focusing on what went well. Next time, I’ll share some of the lessons learned and reflect on some changes I might want to make before teaching the course again in the fall.

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Isn’t all research creative?

Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

I’ve spent a couple of semesters now teaching students about different research contexts, including academic, scholarly, creative, personal, professional and scientific. For the most part, they do really well with understanding the idea that research works differently in different situations and what some of the differences between each context might be. They seem to especially like learning about personal research because they like hearing that all of the Googling they’ve been doing all their life to fulfill their personality counts as research, at least by the standards of our particular course.

There’s one type of research they have more difficulty with than others, though, and that’s creative research.

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On productive(?) procrastination

So about a year ago, I finished a six month sabbatical in which the main research project I worked on was a literature review on creative writing pedagogy (as well as related topics such as the history of creative writing as an academic subject). This project was meant to strengthen my foundation of knowledge on the topic so that I could write an article exploring why creative research is not a standard part of creative writing instruction. I wanted to know enough so that I could publish my work in a journal outside my own field without looking like a complete idiot.

Admittedly, I didn’t get as much done with this project during my sabbatical as I was perhaps hoping for when I first conceived it. Mostly this was because when I applied for my sabbatical in fall 2019, I wasn’t expecting that by the time it actually started in fall 2020, the world would be in the middle of a global pandemic. But also I ended up working on a book project that I hadn’t entirely planned for, either.

Still, by the time my sabbatical was done I’d read about 11 books and 20+ articles on the topic. Based on what I’d read, I managed to complete a draft of my intended article by the end of spring 2021. I knew that what I had needed a lot of work but I thought I was in good shape to submit the thing by fall 2021.

Now fall 2021 has come and gone and spring 2022 is under way. My article continues to go unsubmitted.

It’s not that I’m not working on it. There was a short period of time where I did have to put it in a drawer for a little while to focus on other, more urgent things. But I’ve been working on it steadily for about three months now and, if anything, I feel further from being ready to submit than I was last spring.

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What I’m reading: February 2022

Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.

Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Note: The following contains spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Unity, Cheer (Netflix series), Spider-Man: No Way Home, and the Spider-Man PS4 game. 

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My approach to creative research for fiction writing

Image by Bishwas Bajracharya from Pixabay

In the few years I’ve spent investigating the role of research in creative writing, I’ve started thinking a lot about the role research plays in my own creative work, and how that’s changed as a result of my scholarly work.

I write fiction for fun, which I know is a statement that is likely to make a lot of professional writers grind their teeth at least a little. In saying that writing is a form of play for me, I’m not trying to trivialize or diminish what professional writers do or how much work it is. But in this life there are people who knit without the goal of one day becoming a fashion designer. There are people who run without the goal of one day becoming an Olympic athlete. And there are people who write without the goal of one day becoming a bestselling author. Or even getting published.

Because fiction writing is a form of play for me, I don’t focus that much on the quality of what I’m writing. Questions of authenticity and accuracy are pretty much moot. Which means research is pretty moot too. So except for a quick Google search here or there, I have always tended to paper over gaps in my knowledge with imagination or, frankly, BS.  What does it matter? No one’s ever going to see any of it.

But in studying creative research, I thought it might be interesting to start practicing some of what I was trying to preach. Or at least attempt to explore the role of research in my own work so that when I talk to authors about their creative research, I have some experience of my own to work from.

So I recently finished a novel-length story that I’ve been working on for roughly a year and a half. I have a drawer full of stories like this—finished drafts of works that I have little or no intention of returning to. This time, rather than moving on to the next idea or the next project, I felt compelled to go back and actually try to revise what I had done. If nothing else, I wanted to spend more time with these characters and, after spending a lot of time reading about revision, I wanted to see what the process was actually like.

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