How Not to Teach a Writing Class

Interesting that I’ve been thinking about how to be the best writing teacher, and I happened to come across this old episode of Grace Under Fire that shows how NOT to teach creative writing.  Watch from about 10:52 until 12:40 to see an example of creating a non-safe space writing environment!

Journal, if you wish: I know it’s just a clip from an old television show, but have you ever had a writing teacher be so critical that you had no interest in sharing your work?  If you watch the rest of the episode, what do you think about Grace’s response?

https://goo.gl/YSmxsJ

Psychological Safety and Creativity

Mom and son at La Jolla Shores
Mom and son playing on the beach at La Jolla Shores: trust and fun.

This morning, I was reading a study published in Harvard Business Review about how high performing teams need psychological safety to perform at their best.

This made me think about creative people: I think a majority of creators need psychological safety to perform AT ALL and certainly to perform at their best.

What is Psychological Safety?

The article defines psychological safety as the belief that you won’t be punished if you make a mistake.  I liked these quotes from the article:

Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off .”

“Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources. We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Humor increases, as does solution-finding and divergent thinking — the cognitive process underlying creativity.

Psychological Safety in the Classroom

As a creative person and a creative writing instructor, these quotes make me think about the importance of safety for creative writers.  I think it’s important to create an atmosphere where students can take risks with their writing without fear of embarrassment or humiliation, but still benefit from valuable feedback to help them continue to grow as writers.

So, what is the sweet spot and the most effective way to give feedback while preserving creativity?

I think the answer is in the second quote above: building a classroom setting that prioritizes trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration so that students feel safe first…and then work towards resiliency, motivation, and persistence, all important attributes for published writers.

I’ll keep working on a way to put this thought into practice and will share in a future post.

Journal, if you wish:

How do you create your own inner atmosphere that allows you to feel good about creating? What elements are part of your own safety zone?

Write about a time when a teacher helped you feel safe about creating.  Why did you feel that way and how could you replicate it?

 

 

You Don’t Have to Smile

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Oh no! I’m not smiling!

When I started this blog, I was thinking about self expression as a person expressing him or herself in a creative way.  However, we express ourselves in a number of ways, including our facial expressions.  I know my face looks different when I am happy or sad, when I am excited or nervous, when I am tired or wide awake.

And here’s the thing.  My facial expression can be whatever it is.  I can choose if I want to smile or if I want to frown or if I just want to have a neutral look.

During the last two weekends, I had two people tell me “SMILE!”  And I really hated it.

The first time was when I was walking to the coffee shop to work, and I was thinking about my projects.  A man told me to smile because life isn’t that bad and because God loves me.  This man who knows nothing about my choice to smile or not smile or what I was thinking at the time.

The second time was when I posted an updated photo of my hair on a “going gray and loving it” forum on Facebook.  My eyes looked really blue, and I really that I could see my emerging gray with my hair pulled back.  I didn’t have a cheesy grin.  I just had my unfiltered face.  When I posted the picture, I was commanded to SMILE! by a group member.  Uh, no thanks.

I’m writing this to remind myself that I never have to smile.  I am not a little girl sitting in a photo studio trying to look cute for a picture.  I do not have to smile when I’m walking down the street, and I do not have to smile for photos.  My body and my face belong to me, and I can decide what I want to do with them.

I do like to smile, laugh, and giggle, a lot.  On my own terms.

To smile or not to smile, that is the question!  (You decide!)

Rachel

Journal, if you’d like: How do you feel when people tell you to smile?  Do you think they are just being concerned about a serious or grumpy or intense look on your face?  When people tell you to smile, how does it make you feel?  Or: what in your life makes you smile?  When’s the last time you smiled?  How would you describe your facial expression at this point in time?

Exercise as Self Expression

img_7022-1This morning, I had an insight that I decided to share here.

I’ve been experimenting with Qi Gong, thanks to a friend at work.  Qi Gong is an exercise I enjoy.  The moves are simple. It feels good.   And it’s helping me feel more grounded.

Perhaps because Qi Gong is new to me, it feels more mentally engaging that yoga, where I tend to worry more whether or not I’m doing it right…and if I’m going to get corrected.

Qi Gong helps me feel like I am in my body.  My feet on the ground. My hands scooping up energy.  My arms punching out and pulling in.

Qi Gong for me is a form of self expression.  Me, expressing myself, through the movements of my body.

Feeling the movements and not trying to escape from them.

I think that exercise became something physically painful to me in junior high school.  From then on, even when I really wanted to enjoy it, exercise was not about self expression.  Exercise was other things: punishment, pain, inadequacy, something to escape from, a competition, something to get over, something to avoid, a way to take up less space in the world.

It’s hard to express yourself through exercise when your mind is focused on just one thing: WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE OVER?!

For me, I can’t be in my body when I’m trying to escape from it.  So, running never worked for me because I could never be in my body when the exercise was so physically and emotionally painful for me. I would mentally disconnect or just not do it.   On the other hand, I have a student who loves to run.  It clears her mind, and it makes her feel invigorated and ready to take on the day.

Thinking back, there are some forms of movement that I enjoyed as a child or that I enjoy now. When I was young, I loved gymnastics and playing on the bars at recess and at home. I also loved the freedom of riding my bike and enjoyed the roller skating rink. When I was eighteen, I loved going to local dance clubs.

As an adult now, I enjoy walking.  I can walk with friends or by myself.  Walking has choices.  Walking feels good.  I can observe life as I walk.   I can walk slow or fast.  Walking is not a competition, and there’s not a trainer or teacher who wants to correct my walking moves. Walking is just another way to BE.

Interested in Qi Gong?  I like this video, and there are many more choices on YouTube.

Journal, if you choose: does thinking about exercise as a way of expressing yourself change your relationship with it?  Is there a form of movement that you really enjoy, and if so, what is it?  Why do you think you enjoy it?

Why Self Expression Matters

Self expression is important, and I recently realized why.

trauma sensitive journaling
Expressing myself in a bright pink shirt and my cat’s eye sunglasses.

Yes, creative activities can be enjoyable, but they are also an important way to remind us that we exist, that we all have a unique vision, that we are always enough, and that we are brilliant.

The fact that we can create something from nothing, that we can write poems, essays, song lyrics, blog entries, and stories is actually incredible when you think about it. The fact that we express ourselves through the multitude of choices we make each day in what to wear, what to feed ourselves, and how to make our way through the world is also incredible–another part of self expression.

You matter.  You have value. Your self deserves a place for expression.  A safe place where you can create without judgment or competition.  A place where you can create to create and express to express, without fearing that you are doing it right or wrong. For years I’ve held back from going to dance classes for fear of doing it wrong–when all I want to do is rock some awkward moves in a group full of accepting, happy people.  My hope is that my blog is to you what that (still imaginary) dance class is for me.

Here, I’ll post insights into my own self expression as I search for balance in my own life.  Feel free to follow along and participate as much or as little as you’d like.

 

Through a Glass of Chardonnay

chardonnay window

If creativity is seeing things in a new way, what do you see when you look through a glass of chardonnay, sparkling water, or lemon-lime soda?

If you choose, journal about what you see when you look at a scene through two layers of glass.  If there are bubbles involved, how does it change your view?

Here, I was fascinated by the fact that I could see the scene through my glass of wine and that I could see the people on the beach watching the sunset.

And because I like choices, you could also consider these journaling prompts:

  • Take a series of photographs through different windows.  Describe the view from both sides of the window.
  • Journal how you feel before and after that first glass of chardonnay.  How do your perceptions change?  I’m going to link to an experiment that a photographer did with this friends on this topic.

 

 

 

That Stubborn Feeling

b62f35f5-86c2-4f2b-b275-cf912d06aac4-41173-00002a8887a8695fFor this Saturday’s self expression, I encourage you to take your journal and work out strategies you can use when you get stuck in your writing process.

I feel like we probably all have different strategies that helps us.  You can read mine from my journal and then work on your own. (Feel free to enlarge the photo so that you can see the entire image. I will work on creating clickable images of my journal pages so that they self-enlarge in the future!)

These are great to have on hand when we need them!

If you choose, you can also explore these journaling ideas:

  • Why do you sometimes feel stubborn about working on your writing projects?
  • Write about a time you got unstuck.  What did you do?
  • Write about a time when you helped a friend or child work through writer’s block.

 

Safe Space Creativity

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My classroom at UC San Diego Extension

I’ve been reading about the idea of “trauma sensitive” or “trauma inspired” yoga.  I believe that some of the same concepts can apply to creative writing.  How many people are scared to journal or be creative because of bad experiences they’ve had in the past?

With this new understanding, I like the idea of creating a safe space for people to be creative. As a writing teacher, I pledge to my students:

  1. To encourage your participation as a valued class member, but to never force it.  You can share as much or little as you like.
  2. To create a classroom free from competition, where everyone’s work is valued.
  3. To respect the fact that you’ve shared your personal writing with me–that takes courage, and I respect it.
  4. To offer you the level of corrections that you are ready to receive, which could range from support and cheerleading to more vigorous copy edits.

As a creative writing student, how do you feel in your writing classes? What could your teachers do to provide you with a better experience?

Making Waves

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I took this photo from inside a wave at La Jolla Shores beach in California.

There’s nothing more beautiful than the ocean waves.  Except maybe being inside of one.

On one self-expression Saturday, I decided to explore the waves from the inside out.

As you know if you’ve ever gone to the beach, the experience of being inside a wave is completely different that observing the waves from a distance.

There’s a physical energy within the waves that you can only experience by being inside of one.

 

If you choose, journal about something from outside of it and from inside of it.  How is the experience different?  What do you see, hear, feel from both vantage points?

I recently did this creative writing prompt with students in one of my classes.  We had fun exploring what it’s like to be inside and outside of a street fair or local event.  You can use this as a starting point if it works for you.

Family at the Beach

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My beautiful girls at the beach. There’s something about being with your family during a sunset that can be magical.

Self expression can happen with a camera as well as a journal, I think.  Here, I’m capturing the girls capturing their view of the sunset.  If you looked at both of our photos, they’d probably look different.

My thought is that creativity is simply looking at something in a different way.

Journal about these moments, if you wish:

  • A moment you witnessed a sunset
  • Time spent with family during a sunset
  • Seeing the same view through three sets of eyes