Genre and the Creative Writer

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.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Genre and the Creative Writer”

  1. I love, love, love how you develop the tension between your roles as creative writer and literary scholar – it is a tight rope many of us language-lovers have struggled with at least once before at one time or another. “I wanted to write what I wanted to write” – it’s remarkable how universal that feels to a fellow artist/linguistic-player (I always joke that I get far too playful when I write – I dribble punctuation and run back and forth and get my heart-rate going). It’s easy to forget not everyone knows what it’s like.
    “Understanding these components of genre were essential to my growth as a writer” – you progress so well from the tension to the solution, Kendal. Your proposition of working organically in this process and embracing the “breathing room” that can exist here for creative writers as literary scholars is much appreciated by your audience (though totally and admittedly biased because I LOVED when I found my breathing room here too).
    This is beautifully developed, organized, and supported by your outside sources. I very much enjoyed reading! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Like

  2. Hi Kendal,

    Your opening paragraph is very strong. I like how you compare writing to a work of art and that all of us are here because in some way we are devoted to writing. Your introduction entices the reader to keep reader to find out where you’re going with those ideas.

    Bringing in your personal experience about your writing, which needed improvement, helps build your credibility and makes the reader relate to you. You saw that there was a problem with the way you were writing, granted your previous professor pointed it out to you, but it got you to shift your way of thinking about writing to make improvements. I think everyone can relate to your story and would prefer to write whatever they wanted rather than following the constraints of the intended genre. I think you explained genre well by providing this example that was easy to follow.

    Like

  3. Kendal,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog! You’re right about how we need to understand whom we are writing for along with what and how we are writing. I think we often get stuck in our own skill sets as writers that we have difficulty exploring and growing in other types of writing. Personally, I’m not a creative writer. I appreciate it, but I’m definitely not one. I approach things from an analytical perspective.

    As an educator, your example of that student who is a “little too fired up” is certainly a student I can imagine. Your example is perfect at highlighting how not knowing your audience is destructive to your writing and ultimately loses all of its purpose. Specifically, those students, while incredibly smart, are sometimes too smart for their own good. They tend to close their minds to other thoughts and ideas because they seem to think that they have all of the answers. I think you put it best when you said, “that student just writes stories plagued with social critique brimming with young ignorance.” But that’s what it is— young ignorance. It can be taken too seriously, but it can’t go unaddressed either as noticed by your college professor, “Dr. Andrews.” Dr. Andrews realized that while your writing was probably entertaining, it was caught up in its “look at me and how clever I am” tone. You had gotten stuck in your creative writing that you weren’t able to provide an adequate analysis. Furthermore, and most importantly, you weren’t writing for the correct genre thus forgetting your audience altogether. I like the quote that you used from Charles Bazerman’s article that said, “the places you habituate will develop those parts of you that most related to and oriented towards the activities of that space.” It’s crucial to write what we know. However, it’s equally important to stretch ourselves in many types of genres. We should ask ourselves, “How I can use my set of writing skills to best approach this genre?’ Genres should not be looked at like constraints.

    I know that the paper you wrote in Dr. Andrew’s class a little while ago, but I would like to know how you would approach it today. Obviously, you’ve grown as a writer so it’d be interesting to hear your take on it now. How would you connect your creative writing with that of an analysis today on that particular topic? Also, you said that you felt like an outcast from the world of literary critique because of your creative writing background. Can you explain a bit more on this? What made you feel so differently than everyone in terms of writing? I know you gave the example about having your poem published at a young as, but as an educator a lot of what is taught in school is analysis. Did you struggle with analysis in high school as well? Your example in Dr. Andrew’s class is excellent, but I want a little more background as to how you became JUST a creative writer at that point. Your blog was fantastic and I had a great time reading. That’s why I’m so interested in your background as a writer.

    Great job, Kendal!

    Danny

    Like

  4. Kendal,

    The way you draw in your reader with a personal story and then carry that as a common thread throughout your post is incredibly effective in conveying your ideas as well as connecting with your reader. Well done. Additionally, I truly enjoyed reading your approach to genre and being able to identify with the struggles of being a beginning writer, which will then allow me to actually apply what you’ve written here. Great post!

    Like

  5. Hi Kendal,

    Thanks for the awesome example about the importance of understanding different genres within the English department of the university. I’m taking English 503 and English 519 right now, and in my first paper for 519 I actually tried to be less formal and write outside of the genre of academic argument paper. I was very aware that I was doing it–but I was tired of the formal academic format and had found the less formal blog posts in 503 to be really refreshing. As soon as I submitted the paper, however, I freaked out! I’m a writing instructor, of course I know better than to try and submit a paper outside of its required/requested genre. So, I put my tail between my legs and rewrote it to fit within the appropriate genre.

    Anyway, I think your post is so important, because my students don’t often understand that their are different genres of academic papers–even within the departments that they are studying.

    Thanks,

    Chase

    Like

    1. Kendal,

      I enjoy reading you blogs. I would never ever consider myself an artist let alone the creative writer. However, I think you are correct when you say, “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.” I notice myself, as a first semester graduate student here, that I have broken away from writing so formally in my discussions. Rather, I approach the genre of our course discussions organically. I still respond in a scholarly and analytical way, yet I have allowed myself to be free and truly think about my audience. So in my mind, I am an artist. This may seem trivial to others; however, I am use to writing and the discussion about writing being so rigid and unchangeable. Even where I work in a writing center at a community college, many educators lose sight of your point. I have been guilty myself. So, as I learn more each day, I think of being creative in my delivery in my writing as well as understanding the diversity we see in our students. We must allow them to be free to write while at the same time teach them whom they are writing for as well. Thank you.

      Like

We appreciate your comment on this blog post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s