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writing with my students: a philosophy of art

Each semester, I tell myself that I will write with my students–that I will complete each of the assignments that I ask them to complete (particularly in my creative writing classes). It makes sense, and after a number of semesters not doing this, I begin wondering if I am a bit of a hypocrite for not doing so or if I can even do the very assignments I assign. The tough reality is, though, that by the time I’m done planning my classes and developing the assignments (not to mention responding to and grading them), there is very little time for me to do much else. Just the same, this semester, I’d like to try again–at least for a couple of the assignments even if it’s just rough work.

One of the first pieces I ask for in my fiction writing class is a response to a number of questions about why one pursues fiction writing. My hope in having students begin to articulate answers here is to raise some awareness of their own philosophies as artists and writers. I want them to recognize the possibilities of their art beyond it being a pleasant pastime. Here’s what I prompt them with:

Why do you write, or why do you want to write? What do you hope to achieve with your writing? What do you hope to gain from this work? How do you hope to affect others with your work? What will they gain? Can you describe your philosophy towards your art? (I know this is a hard one. It’s really the bigger question that we will be working towards, but give it a shot now. Just play with it. Think through writing.)

So here goes my rough and rapid response…

I write because I breath. The act of truly living requires that I consider my relationship with the people around me, within the natural world, and within the webs of significance that we, as human beings, weave to create meaning during our time on this earth. I write to keep my eyes and heart open. As distant images of distant suffering flicker across my television, I write so that I can feel something, to know that other’s pain is not so distant, to save myself from the perils of indifference.

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” asked E. M. Forster. I write to think, to know what I know. It helps me literally work out problems through writing–to figure stuff out. As I sit scribbling late into the night, or alone in my car before braving the parking-lot walk to my office in the dead of winter, I write to surprise myself.

I write to say what I otherwise couldn’t. There are words I don’t dare utter for their sound afloat in the air would surly shatter the glass threads that bind me to others–or some–and crack the facade of composure I maintain. I write to face my fears or to hide from them.

I write to tap my “wild mind,” an image Natalie Goldberg brings to our collective conversation on writing,–to seek refuge in the wildness that saves me from the suffocating illusion of order that I force on my day-to-day life. Through writing, more is possible; change is within my reach.

I write to connect with others, to express my humanity, to seek human communion…

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