Thursday, 18 August 2016

Writers’ Reflections

Different types of reflective statements  

I’ve just completed two sets of marking and again have been fascinated by some reflective statements. In my experience there is always some sort to reflective statement with creative work on degree programmes. In my own institution this applies to both Creative Writing and Drama. Drama students often have to keep a reflective log.
We ask our creative Writers to produce a Writer’s Reflection. On their very first Creative Writing Assignment they produce a Writer’s Response. They react as writers to what they have read. We also have an Annotated Bibliography where they cite books as normal but then provide a paragraph about why the text was important.
Our Masters students produce a Statement of Poetics. This goes a little deeper and may discuss the writer’s process, relating it and their product to the work of others and identifying where it goes beyond or differs from the perceived norms. Good practice for PhD work?
For my own Masters I had to produce a Rationale. Why had I written as I had? What was I trying to achieve? Which were my influences?
My PhD thesis was almost like two theses: one a 110,000 word young adult book, the other a 46,000 word global definition of what a young adult novel actually is. However, it wasn’t two theses; the two elements were in constant dialogue. Writing the YA novel raised questions, whilst looking at other YA novels influenced me in what I included in my own.


Why we ask for reflective statements

What I’ve just described happening in my PhD gives us a bit of a clue. We complete our work but question it at the same time.
All writers are involved in a circle of action research: we write, we send it out for evaluation, (to our Creative Writing tutor, our editor, critique group, a publisher) we react to the reaction and we write again. On our courses in Higher Education we perhaps expect our students to articulate that more. They write about it and they own it. They discover what is happening by writing about it.
Forcing students to write about this every time does bring some focus and it makes it count. No doubt the £9,000 a year also has an effect. Being on a full-time degree course also helps; they have permission to spend their time writing. They are also exposed to all sorts of expertise.

Examples of what we see in Reflective work

We tend to give students what we might describe as an essay title. For example, on our third year Final Portfolio module we ask them for the first assignment to discuss their experience of the creative writing workshop. In the second assignment we ask them to write about their development as a writer over the three years they are with us. We encourage the use of a reflective journal throughout that time. Each Writer’s Reflection picks up the themes of the module.
Sometimes the writing is less good in the reflective work than in the creative work. However, we can nevertheless see a process and it sometimes feels more as if we’re marking the process than the product.                   
We also see this in the drafts they produce. I personally like students to annotate their drafts. Which draft is it? What did they reject here? What did they do next? Another form of reflection, after all.  
The reflection does count. It makes creative work at once more of an art and more of a science. Students are asking how does this work and how can I make it work even better?