The most important thing my creative writing professors ever taught me was to write what you know. When I switched gears and decided to write what I knew, rather than what I thought might make a good story, my writing blossomed.
If you’re considering creative writing projects in a community or classroom setting, it’s good to remember that what your students know may be vastly different from your own knowledge and experiences, which can make evaluating or critiquing writing projects challenging.
For example, my writing program at Northern Michigan University employed writing workshops, which is a technique by which writers in a group submit a manuscript to all the members of his/her class a week ahead of time. The manuscript is critiqued verbally [during class time] and in a written critique, which was later graded by our professor and then given to the person critiqued. It should be noted that the workshop process can be used for writers at every stage of development.
As an American Indian student, writing what I knew, my workshop sessions typically ended up being Q&A sessions about culture, rather than a critique of my writing. What would have been helpful to me, and what will be helpful to any student writing from a diverse ethnic or cultural perspective, is to focus on the writing style–explaining, as you would in any critique, how to make the writing more effective; i.e. add more description, work on more effective/realistic dialogue, show don’t tell.
Reading AND writing are what I consider foundation skills. These skills provide a foundation from which youth can build communication skills that will serve them in both the personal and professional aspects of their lives. Using writing projects in the classroom and the community develop skills that youth can leverage in other digital and creative projects including digital storytelling, oral histories, photo voice, photography and film, among others.
The following is the first chapter from my novella, The Bear Walk. The chapter, titled Eveleen was published in, Celebration of Indigenous Thought and Expression, by Lake Superior State University Press, 1996. This story is set in the late 1970s, where we find Daniel “Teeple” Cornstalk living on the Keweenaw Bay Indian reservation with his Aunt, Eveleen. Teeple is in his mid-thirties– a recovering alcoholic–who is seeking a change in his life, a chance for something different.