In college, classes demand a more authoritative writing style while also encouraging students to depart from rigid, formulaic essay writing styles. A portion of Whitties come out of high school confident in their writing abilities, able to churn out the dreaded five-paragraph essay without great difficulty. Through my own experience in writing classes and as a writing fellow, I have come to realize that much of writing education at a tertiary level is about the undoing of formulas we internalize in high school. As much as it was implied in my secondary schooling, and arguably the education of other college-bound students that creative and analytical writing styles are separate affairs, I argue that the creative can inform and inspire the analytical. An ability and appreciation to write creatively aids any student in composing complex and compelling writing. As tutors, we can help students see the value in creative prose as an art form in itself and as a means to improve analytical writing.
In my middle and high school education, creative writing always took the backseat to logic-driven analytical writing. The brief units we spent learning to write creatively were separate and disconnected from the more highly valued practice of writing persuasive, analytical papers. Thinking through the lens of a writing tutor now, I wonder why creative writing forms were treated as less important more logic-based ones. What I loved (and still love) most about writing creatively was the feeling that no one, not even my teachers, could tell me outright that I was wrong. Often, creative writing has an emotional tilt, and composing this style of work is more about the writer being in dialogue with her or himself rather than with a particular author whose work the writer is exploring analytically. Admittedly, this does pose a more difficult task for teachers in assessing and evaluating students’ creative work. However, the value in promoting openness to creative writing can help expand a student’s writing toolbox. Through creative methods of brainstorming and revising, students practice a different mode of thinking through which they can further examine and improve their work.
One example of creative writing useful for generating strong analytical prose is the free-write. Free-writing can be defined as the process of “writing privately and writing without stopping…to just write whatever words come to your mind; or write about whatever you want to explore at this moment” (Belanoff and Elbow, 4). Free-writing lacks the structure and linearity of analytical prose, and yet can “help you discover more about a topic or thesis you already have and/or to expand on a draft in progress” (Bishop 194). If a student is bogged down in the argument of their paper or how to phrase a claim, then suggesting a free-write, or guided free-write, can be a helpful direction to take. Allowing students to pour our their thoughts about a particular element of their writing frees them from the pressure of trying to make them sound composed or eloquent. Often, this can elicit some of the writer’s strongest and most complex ideas.
Say, for instance, that an encounters student comes in stumped on what to write about for an essay on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. As the student talks about certain aspects of the texts, you hear them keep circling back to talk about Sethe’s role as a mother. At this point, the tutor could have the student do 2 brief, guided free-writes on the words Sethe and motherhood, where they write constantly and intensely about those words in order to generate ideas the student may be having trouble articulating.
A creative approach can also come in useful in the later editing phase, through the use of imagery. Imagery provides the reader with the sense that they are present and experiencing the scene the writer is creating. Even once a student has a complete draft of a paper, scanning one’s work for places where the writer can “show” rather than “tell” what they are trying to convey goes a long way in holding a reader’s interest through more rich and active vocabulary. Although a student who has come to the writing center with an encounters paper must do some “telling”—by explaining their argument and presenting it clearly and logically—going through the paper afterwards and considering what sentences could do more “showing” can enliven any sort of written work. Especially if a student comes into the writing center with a job or internship application, encouraging them to consider imagery can put them at an advantage. Doing so will help their written work will stand out against other applications as unique and engaging.
Despite the secondary position creative writing takes to analytical prose in many educational contexts, tutors have the opportunity to show students the value of creative writing in generating strong analytical prose. Rather than seeing the two styles as separate disciplines, emphasizing the intersection of creative and analytical writing gives peer tutors and tutees alike another method through which to improve their college-level writing.
1. Elbow, Peter, and Pat Belanoff. Being a Writer: A Community of Writers Revisited. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
2. Bishop, Wendy. On Writing: A Process Reader. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.