Saturday, March 30, 2013

Unplugged Assignment

Sometime during the next few weeks, my First Year Writing students will have to complete what might be the most difficult (and maybe even unpleasant) assignment of the year: a 24-hour unplug and response paper about it. From the assignment guidelines:
For 24 hours, you must completely unplug from technology: no cell phones, no internet, no computer use of any kind, no TV, no iPads, no iPods, and no radios. You may use electricity for other things and you may drive, though I’d rather you not listen to music in the car. (Spending a little time with your own brain will not kill you, I promise.)  For safety’s sake, please be smart about this – keep your cell on you in case of an emergency (but turn it off). Tell your family/friends you’re unplugging. Re-discover the world. Take a walk. Read a (paper) book. Talk to people without distraction.
When I announce this assignment on the first day of class, some students react, but most see that the response paper isn't due for a few months and forget about it.

When I remind them two weeks out that their unplugged paper is due, they panic. "What if I have homework?" They ask, frantic eyes pleading. "What if I have a project or a paper to do? I need the computer!"

Just as many teachers and professors have done before me, I remind them that they'd had the guidelines and due date since day one. They should have planned. Just as many students before them, they complain and groan. I ignore it.

This semester, facing a particularly un-motivated bunch of mostly art students, I promised I'd do it too, sometime in the next two weeks. I don't particularly feel like wasting class time presenting my own response paper, so I'll post it here instead. My projected "unplugged" day will be next Saturday, April 6, from midnight to midnight. During this time, I have a drawing event and a birthday party to attend, both which should be excellent opportunities to ignore my electronics and socialize.

I encourage my students to embrace the radio static enjoy it, and some do. Some continue to complain on the page. I hope all of them learn something. I'll (anonymously) share any particularly interesting responses here as well.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Extremely Unscientific Data on Creation vs. Revision Stress in Intro to Creative Writing Students

I'll admit it - sometimes, I ask my students specific questions to discuss for my own edification. An example just recently was this discussion question in my online intro to creative writing class:
Which is more stressful - creation (the blank page) or revision? And if you don't revise, or don't spend a lot of effort on revision, why not?
Obviously, I wanted the students to think about their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the writing process, but I think also in there, somewhere, I wanted a chance to answer the question myself: I am scared of creation. 

Creation is scary. Creation is why I don't post online for months, or sometimes years. Creation is why I've been working on the same novel for three years and always put it off in favor of grading and critiquing other peoples' creation. Creatiphobia, I could call it, is holding me back as a professional writer, and I wanted to see if my students - most of them in their late teens and early twenties but some adult students with more life experience than me - were creatiphobes too.

From an extremely unscientific data set (i.e. me reading all the responses and deciding their categories), my results were that out of 16 responses, 8 students thought revision was more stressful, some even going so far as to say they hated it. 3 students agreed with me, saying that the blank page was more stressful/revision was easier or more fun for them. 5 students, surprisingly, either answered "It depends" or "Both are difficult." In the interest of looking super-awesome, I made a pie chart:
If I actually was a scientist, I would have surveyed more than 16 students and would also get more information to think about, like, their age, number of school years or semesters completed, perhaps socioeconomic status just for funsies. But I am not a scientist.

The most interesting response was this student, who is an art major and said it has to do with medium:
[Anxiety of a blank page] only gets worse if it's nice paper, or a pretty book, or a fancy medium/tool--it creates this sense of having to have all your marks and ideas perfect immediately or your ruined the page and the entire book. Your tools have to create a sense of comfort so you're okay with making mistakes, because those mistakes sometimes aren't so bad or mistakes at all...but you won't know that or even reach that when you're afraid of making a mark. Writing or sketching on medium-low grade sketchbooks and journals feel safe, because they don't feel sacred or special. The same with the computer. Things feel less consequential so you can just jump in.  
-Ashley Almeida-Souza (*
Conclusion? I don't know if I have one, at least not the one I wanted. I found it interesting that most early writers are more excited to create, and I think I remember that: before I learned too much, before crippling doubt set in, I filled yellow legal pads in the back of my parents' minivan on our long summer vacation drives. But of course I didn't tell them this. I didn't tell them that for me, the more I learned the less I wanted to create. I didn't want to scare them off. So I replied, here and there, that I agreed with the ones I agreed with, that revision was fun, and I admired the ones who liked creativity, and I nodded wisely at the ones who said "It depends." And I especially resonated with Ash's response, which is why the Moleskin I got for my birthday is still empty, and why this blog is full of half-written posts of less consequence.

Sometimes it's just nice to be reminded that we are not alone in this.

*used with permission