I think a lot of people in this world wouldn’t dare call themselves an artist. Do you consider yourself an artist? Someone that creates something from nothing? To even get into the definition of an artist would require an entire blog or lifetime worth of study. However, I’m certain that this community of writers we have created is devoted to writing in any capacity, simply because it is what they love to do. This little community has brought together educators, editors, and writers from many different backgrounds. Consequently, all of these styles have created a sort of melting pot of writers that have each come from a unique style and genre.
Five years ago, I began my evolution as a writer when I had my first poem published in my high school’s literary magazine. I knew from a young age that I had wanted to write, but that poem had made me a “creative writer” for my entire, small world to see. Even when I came to my first university, my literature critiques and discussions concerned with rhetoric were riddled with the passionate, smart-ass writer tropes that can still be found today. Some educators can immediately recall a particular student that was just a little too fired up when reading a piece of literature. Or maybe that student just writes stories plagued with social critique brimming with young ignorance. That was me; I was the young creative writer that thought every piece of work that spawned from my brain was the platform by which all my arguments could be justified.
This was until one of my professor’s had called me into their office to discuss an essay on Marlon Brando’s performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951). My professor, lets call him Dr. Andrews, had called me in to express his concern with some of the ways I had approached Brando’s sexualized ego as Stanley Kowalski. He cited that my reading was skewed and inferred far too many things. For those unfamiliar with the play, Brando’s character ends a scene groping his wife’s sister — critics have written numerous articles claiming that Stanley actually rapes her. Instead, I had argued that it was only a misplaced hand. Unfortunately, finding evidence to support this idea was difficult to find. So difficult that I decided that my own analysis was appropriate and supported by my countless years as a literary scholar — you’re probably starting to see where the creative writer comes in.
Besides my ill-supported analysis, my professor had also called me in to discuss my vocabulary. I didn’t swear in my essays, but he explained that my use of descriptive words and phrases clogged my discussion and made simple concepts difficult to follow. In the end my professor left me with the idea that I should take my writing more seriously and focus on a strong literary analysis. In short, I left the office feeling defeated. I thought my writing was strong, but my professor had blatantly told me that I missed the mark. What had I done wrong? Now, almost four years later, I can certainly tell you: I was writing as a creative writer and not a literary scholar. Some students and writers can certainly identify with this. Or, rather, nearly any artist can identify with this. I wanted to write what I wanted to write.
Unfortunately, as writers, we can’t always have it all! We have this wonderful profession, but there are expectations that we must adhere to. However, let’s first make one thing clear: genre is not a formal constraint that authors must fulfill. Amy Devitt’s article formulates her discussion around this principle and fortunately makes some breathing room for the freshman Kendal that struggled with applying themselves to one genre. Devitt’s article, “Generalizing about Genre: New Conceptions of an Old Concept,” argues that genre acts as an entire frame for writing. Her analysis concludes by correlating genre and text accordingly: “we make assumptions not only about the form, but also about the text’s purpose, its subject matter, its writers, and its expected reader (575). Genre is intended to be the “under the hood” component of our writing that provides the subliminal details. Unfortunately, the creative writer in me had only assumed that genre existed to keep me as an outcast from the world of literary critique. I was upset with my failure to adhere to genre and what was expected from that genre.
Other creative writers might feel that it is far too difficult to change their style of writing, citing that it feels artificial when written on a page. Rather than reject a genre, I invite these kinds of writers to approach genre organically. Charles Bazerman’s article, “Genre and Identity: Citizenship in the Age of Global Capitalization,” discusses identity and its impact on genre. Bazerman concludes that “the places you habituate will develop those parts of you that are most related to and oriented towards the activities of that space” (17). If you are the struggling creative writer like I was, assimilating into a new genre can be difficult. However, looking to me as an example, consider how you first began writing. When I first had my poem published, I was so proud that I was ignorant in how approached other genres of writing. I had only looked to improve the creative aspects of my writing. Consequently, I initially failed to grasp the structure and between-the-lines components that I missed in Dr. Andrews’ course. Let us look instead to Bazerman’s argument that identity arises within a genre applying ourselves to a particular style and form. This understanding will in turn allow ourselves to understand our text’s purpose and how we interact with that particular text. Thing organically and write with a particular intent in mind.
Understanding these componenents of genre were essential to my growth as a writer. My one piece of creative work had made me ignorant and I in turn failed to understand what Dr. Andrews expected of me. Understanding genre is imperative, but knowing how you fall into that genre is equally important. When finding your style, identify what subject matter you wish to explore and understand, then apply this knowledge with a particular discourse community in mind. While writing my essay for Dr. Andrews, I only thought about myself and my style. Consequently, the professor that was expecting an astute detailed analysis of “A Streecar Named Desire” only received a piece of creative work with a little bit of analysis on the side. As writers, we must understand not only what and how we are writing, but for whom we are writing for as well.
Bazerman, Charles. “Genre and Identity: Citizenship in the Age of the Internet and the Age of Global Capitalism.” The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre. Cresskill: Hampton Press. 13-37. Print.
Devitt, Amy. “Generalizing about Genre: New Conception of an Old Concept.” College Composition and Communication 44.4 (1993): 573-86. Print.