As part of my birthday present this year, I was bought a creative writing course at Vancouver’s UBC. It’s a 10 week evening course aimed at teaching the participants how to objectively assess their output and hopefully therefore write more better ;o). Though we get set weekly assignments, most of the focus is on providing solid objective feedback to the work of others. Our own assignment is there primarily to offer material for others to practice their feedback on. Hopefully towards the end of the course we reach a Zen state where we can disassociate from our own words and assess them as an impartial reader might – removing the element of “well, I REALLY meant…” and reacting only to what is actually on the page.
The course instructor is Paul Belserene, a “professional story-teller”. Being the detail-oriented anal-retentive I am, I checked him out via the well of occasionally accurate information available on the internet. Turns out he is an American by birth. Originally educated there, he saw the light and now lives in BC. He even occasionally puts ‘u’ into his words just to show he’s open in principle to assimilating into his adopted country. Though gently spoken and dry of wit, his knowledge and experience on the subject make his 2 hour sessions seem far too short. He also has the patience of a saint which, not myself being of a religious bent, I would equate to other mere mortals, so I suppose that’s just a truism.
As I mentioned, we’re provided a handful of assignments each week to provide some fodder for the main task of learning how to objectively evaluate the written word. Since this course has reinvigorated my writing juices, I thought I’d share one here on my much neglected – though steadfastly quite irrelevant – blog.
Write an email that is a follow-up from one person after their first face-to-face meeting in an internet dating situation.
I wanted to write to let you know how much I enjoyed last night. I’m sure you’ve texted me like you said you would, but my stupid kid brother dropped my phone in the bath and it’s stopped working, so I can’t get my texts until I get a new one.
Going to the cinema was such a treat. I had no idea that “Death in a Storm Drain” was still showing. Thanks for letting me buy your ticket – so many men these days insist on paying, which hurts my feminist ideals and would have ruined the romance of the movie. I still can’t believe you had your wallet stolen while we were out. Don’t worry, you can pay me back for your train ticket later.
How is your flat mate? It was sad to hear of his Haemorrhagic Fever, but maybe we can go back to your place next time instead. I think I wrote your number down wrong because when I called today there was a Chinese restaurant that answered. Please email me back soon – I bought us tickets for that batik design seminar I told you about.
Hoping to be yours – Elsie
Now, if you want to play the game, you assess the piece in three phases:
1) What do you read? Assess it AS WRITTEN. Infer what YOU will, as the reader.
2) What do you imagine? Use your own experience and knowledge to paint the mind pictures around the specific words you read. What do the words lead you to imagine?
3) How does it make you feel? What emotional response results from that?
As the reader, these are your assessment of the impact of the piece. Only the writer knows if those responses are even close to the intent – but they’re valid nonetheless. Notice that there’s no judgemental element? There’s no concept of good/bad, only a report of how one reader was “moved” or had reactions to the piece. The writer can then use that feedback to tune the piece if those responses are not aligned with the intent.
Eventually I hope the course will allow me to perform that feedback loop myself, and get at least one step closer to my intended reaction before letting my writing loose on an unsuspecting reader. I’ll let you know how things progress…