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Writing Exercises and Creativity in the Writing Workshop

I assign a lot of writing in my creative writing classes in the form of exercises–I suspect I’m not unique in this. I’ve found that creative writing experiments are sometimes the most interesting writing a student will do all semester–the most generative, creative, and energetic writing, but also the writing that often takes the most risks. Exercises encourage a sense of play and exploration that, hopefully, teaches creative writing as a practice.

I typically see the most improvement in a writer’s work in their exercises. Because of the size of my classes and the length of the quarter, students’ writing experiments tend to define an arc of improvement in a way that is more clear than in students’ workshop pieces. So, I’m wondering if others feel this way–if others have seen this with their students, but more importantly, I wonder how teachers of creative writing capitalize on the energy they see in their students’ exercises. I have a few ideas–one would be to redesign the arc of a course, perhaps following Brian Kiteley’s methodology in the 3 AM Epiphany by integrating more tightly students’ experiments with what they eventually turn in for workshop–creating, say, an arc  in which students are guided through the process of writing a story rather than simply being taught fundamentals–focusing on the genesis and development of stories rather than end products by making the experiments the focus of the course rather than the workshop. I’m thinking about implementing this, but wonder–do others do this? Thoughts?

Published in Teaching