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

1 comment:

  1. I go back and forth about this every two weeks. I guess that's just the age I'm at :/