Teaching Philosophy: Becoming Yourself through Writing
According to the narrator in Paul Beatty’s novel, The Sellout, a person must ask themselves two questions: “Who am I? And how may I become myself?” The foundation of my teaching philosophy is based on these two questions because I believe that higher education in creative writing is an opportunity for students to understand and become themselves as writers. My courses are experiences in which students learn the conventions of storytelling across media, understand who they are as writers within the context of their chosen media, and comprehend the ways in which their own storytelling might follow and depart from those conventions. To teach my students about genres and storytelling conventions, I structure my classes around three concepts: (1) outlining, (2) drafting the outlined story, and (3) discussing the craft of story drafts in workshop.
As writers, we all have to look at our writing and answer two critical questions: What story am I going to tell? And how may I tell that story? The outlining projects in my classes guide students through these two questions. My outlining units begin with studying storytelling conventions across media. In class, we use three outlining techniques: the One Pager (an outline for character goals), Three-Act Greek Dramatic Structure (a macroscopic outline of plot), and a Beat Sheet (a microscopic outline of scene-level turns in the story). Students learn these outline techniques by creating reverse outlines of published short stories, television shows, and films. These exercises teach students the conventions of storytelling in both literature and visual media. Students also write personal craft responses to the media they outlined. Through these responses, they discover the types of writers they want to become by discussing which storytelling choices they want to emulate in their own writing and which choices they want to avoid.
After creating reverse outlines for published work, students create outlines for their own stories. When their outlines are complete, they write the first draft of their own original short story. By executing their outlines in this draft, students apply the storytelling conventions they learned during their discussions of published works. This outlining exercise also shapes their own
choices as fiction writers. I guide my students through the drafting process by teaching them how to be strong project managers for their writing. A strong project manager is a master of scheduling and deadlines. To teach project managing, I teach my students how to create schedules for both their daily writing practices and project-specific writing practices. This time management approach to writing helps student writers become themselves by driving them to (1) set aside time for them to be writers and (2) experiment with craft and storytelling conventions in their own writing.
Lastly, workshop is the final step in my students’ process of becoming their writer self. In classwide workshops, I lead students through discussions of the craft elements and storytelling conventions in their peers’ works. I teach the workshopped writers to approach workshop with the goal of attuning their inner writer voice. Workshopped writers in my class are not listening for answers to their story problems. Instead, they are listening to discover new approaches to craft and new conventions that resonate with the writer they want to become. Overall, through outlines, story drafts, and workshops, I teach my students how to finalize the stories they want to tell and become themselves as writers.
2019 Fulbright Korea Conference
Kat Lewis at Johns Hopkins University