So in my research on the role of research and in creative writing, I finally got around to reading the AWP Recommendations on Teaching Creative Writing to Undergraduates, a document that seems to guide the undergraduate creative writing curriculum in the same way the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy guides information literacy instruction.
As a former undergraduate creative writing student, this document was really interesting to me. I’d never seen it before and it made me think back to the content of the program I graduated from and suddenly it all made a lot more sense. The classes I took, from creative writing workshops to classes on literary criticism, all fit neatly within the AWP’s recommendations.
What surprised me was the emphasis the AWP Recommendations place on the idea that, at the undergraduate level, creative writing programs are not meant to teach students how to write but instead how to read. As an undergraduate creative writing student, you read in order to cultivate an appreciation of literary techniques and then, through writing workshops, attempt to apply those techniques in your own work. The reason for this seems to be that, at the undergraduate level, very few students will actually go on to become creative writers, so what’s the point of trying to teach them how to actually do creative writing? Apparently you have to wait for that until you get to the graduate level, assuming you are talented enough to get there.
I never got to the graduate level with my creative writing education. I was told as a student that, though my work was not publishable per se, I had a lot of potential and for that reason I would probably be a good candidate for an MFA program. I chose not to pursue this for a lot of reasons. First, I had no real mentor to help guide me through the process, something I would have needed as a first generation college student who didn’t know anything about graduate school. Second, despite the (qualified) praise, I had no real confidence in my abilities. Third, life happened and I chose a different path, one that has so far turned out to be very much the right choice for me.
Besides, I assumed my undergraduate degree gave me the credential I needed to consider myself educated in the subject of creative writing, at least at a basic level. I had already been taught how to be a writer. Or so I thought.
Having now discovered that the goal of my program was not to teach me how to write but instead to teach me how to read, I feel a little betrayed. And annoyed.