I was just starting out in libraries around the time that Eat, Pray, Love was the big thing everyone was reading in their book clubs. I remember picking up a copy of the book out of curiosity and also watching the movie but my reading amnesia is such that the only thing I remember from either version is the Eddie Vedder song “Better Days.”
I must have liked the book well enough though because I remember when Big Magic first came out, I immediately put it on reserve. I also remember reading the first fifty pages or so and thinking, “Yeah, this isn’t for me.” And that was before I got to the comment that implies a certain lack of glamor in being a writer asked to speak about libraries as part of a panel. Hmph.
But in my quest to expand my readings on creative writing and creativity in general, I happened to catch sight of this book on the library shelf (it’s hard to miss: the colors on the cover are very bright) and on a whim decided to pick it up again. This time I got all the way through it and I’m still pretty sure the book isn’t for me but I was interested to find that in between all the talk about creativity as a magical thing, there was also some talk about research.
About a year ago, my article “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study” was published in College & Research Libraries. This article represented something of a turning point for my research and writing, first because it drew inspiration from outside the library and information science field and second because it was a much bigger swing than what I’d previously written. But the big ideas in this article have led me down a path of discovery that has made me more excited about research and writing than I was before. And it’s led to some great conversations. So I’m really glad I took that big swing.
I wanted to take some space now to reflect on what taking that swing was like in part as a way to encourage others to do the same with their own ideas.
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.
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 I’m starting with Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.
What seems obvious from these readings is that the creative writing workshop is the most common model for teaching creative writing even though there seem to be a lot of questions about how useful it is.
One of the best fictional illustrations I’ve ever seen of the creative writing workshop experience was in a brief scene at the beginning of the movie Wonder Boys (based on the book by Michael Chabon) where the students in the class tear apart Tobey Maguire’s work while he sits there, silenced by the gag rule and either stone-faced or zoned out. Then another student, seeing the way he’s being attacked, chimes in with more positive/constructive feedback to save him. The students in the class hate their classmate’s work largely because they don’t understand it and the writer in question is unable to explain his thinking to them, even if he wanted to (though in this case, it seems unlikely he’d want to, given the nature of the character).
You could argue about whether this is a realistic representation of the workshop environment, but it certainly captures what it feels like to be in that environment, at least based on my memories of my own undergraduate workshop days, particularly a comment element called the “gag rule.”
Early on in the information literacy course I teach each semester, I introduce students to a couple of common myths about research, things students commonly believe because of their experience with academic research. This includes things like “research is about finding the right answer” and “citation sucks” (which I tell them isn’t really a myth because, well, citation does suck).
Now that I’m spending some time thinking about the role of research in creative writing, I’m finding that there’s a whole other set of myths/beliefs that keep cropping up, ones that I hadn’t thought about or that don’t apply to the type of research I usually teach.