I declared my major in literature and creative writing the summer before beginning my freshman year. I was driven to pursue the passion I felt for creative expression through language, and now, after four years of this study, my preferred mode of expression has changed; yet, I have found meaningful ways to utilize the unique set of skills my education has equipped me with in order to help others learn and create. Most importantly, I found a way to develop a project that used these skills and enabled me to have a positive impact on a local community of writers. By hosting a series of creative writing workshops in UMBC’s writing center, I explored the relationship between creative writing, peer writing and activism, and considered the role of creative writing communities in the lives of writers in a higher learning setting.
Writing is often thought of as a distinctly solitary activity and it is with this latent assumption in mind that I began my journey into the world of creative and academic writing. The process of composition, especially in the case of creative writing, is often times highly personal and therein personalized; there is a specific type of solitariness in studying writing, a certain loner-ism reserved for those who must subsume themselves in their words and their work. This work and the commitment to it can be all consuming, draining, in fact. I didn’t see myself as someone who had much to offer anyone else because I had devoted so much of myself to this process of creation. This misperception of writing would change my sophomore year and my path as a writer would be permanently altered.
My sophomore year I became a College Reading and Learning Association certified writing tutor in UMBC’s writing center. This experience changed my understanding of the writing process and shifted my perspective from that of the isolated writer, to that of the empathetic and sociable writing tutor who was committed to helping others feel less lonely in their own writing processes. I became immersed in this world of writing center pedagogy and scholarship, and for the first two years of this work I saw it as inevitably at odds with my creative writing. I stopped writing poetry–much to the disappointment of my writing professors–and started doing research on tutor writing and collaborative writing processes. It was not until my senior year that I was driven to start a project that would combine my knowledge of both creative writing and tutoring writing.
The idea came to me the summer before senior year while I was catching up with a friend from high school. We had a few creative writing classes together as young awkward teenagers, but now they have similarly chosen a different path for themself, and we discussed how we could continue to make poetry a priority while still succeeding academically. They mentioned the creative writing club on campus, Ampersand (which has since dissolved), and said that they tried to attend a few times but felt the meetings were not inclusive or productive, as attendees had formed a close-knit community policed by inside jokes and witty banter that did not encourage free discussion of literary ideas. I was frustrated by this exclusion of my friend who had recently identified themself as a trans woman and who is one of the most clever poets I have met to this day. In this moment I realized that this was the perfect opportunity for me to utilize the skills and resources I had in order to create an inclusive and productive workshopping space for creative writers at UMBC and beyond.
As a student at UMBC, I had identified a network of writers to which I could advertise these workshops, and this network was ever-expanding as I tutored dozens of new students each week. The workshops were advertised via posters and flyers, word of mouth, myUMBC, and the writing center’s website and appointment scheduling system. I hosted workshops during the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters, and by the end of the spring I
felt that we had developed a community of writers that were supportive of one another during an often-difficult process of composition and revision. These workshops were enabled by Google drives so that participants could read each others’ work prior to workshop and come prepared with constructive comments and suggestions. Beyond the support given to one another during the writing process, the discussion of writing often opened doors to more emotional or personal dialogues about family, drug use, employment, education, sexuality, and relationships among other things. This type of trust and comfortability is not to be taken for granted, especially when writing is often considered such a solitary process.
During the spring of 2016 I took Studies in Feminist Activism, which gave me the unique opportunity to re-contextualize my project from the perspective of an activist. Previously I thought of the project as just something to fulfill an independent study credit during my senior year, or as something that used my tutoring skills and connections while still paying homage to my background in creative writing; the readings done and the discussions had in GWST 200 allowed me to see my project as much more than that. Understanding the writing process as something isn’t necessarily solitary–and something that is in fact made easier and sometimes better by the inclusion of and collaboration with others–has made clear to me a purpose for my skills and resources that I previously thought could have no impact on the world. This experience has certainly empowered me as a writer, and now as an activist, as I have helped empower others in their own processes of creation and self-expression.