Episode Notes | Transcript | AskTheGuest
Graeme Harper is the Dean of Oakland University Honors College in Michigan.
In this Podcast, Dean Harper tells us what Creative Writing is, Elements of Creative Writing, Role of Imagination, the skills needed to study Creative Writing in College and the Career opportunities.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: About Majors: What is Creative Writing? With Dean Graeme Harper of Oakland University.
The goal of this series is to serve as a Primer for High Schoolers about a College Major, through our conversations with Faculty Experts in the various US Colleges and Universities.
We continue this series with Creative Writing, with Dean Graeme Harper of Oakland University.
In particular, we discuss the following with him:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guest: Professor Graeme Harper is the Dean of the Oakland University Honors College, Rochester, Michigan. Dean Harper received the Bachelor of Arts degrees in History, English, Economic History from the University of Sydney. He then earned his Master of Letters from the University of New England (AU), PhD in Creative Arts from University of Technology Sydney. Dean Harper also received a PhD in from the School of English and American Studies from the University of East Anglia (UK).
Memorable Quote: “... really it's playfulness is a key element to feel words can be used in a set aesthetic fashion, you know, can be used as a form of art, rather than used simply as a communication medium.” Dean Graeme Harper.
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Suggestions for you: Primers on College Majors
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
<Start Snippet> Dean Harper 0:14
A little bit like obviously, you can paint a house or you can paint a portrait or paint and paint, obviously, an abstract piece of abstract art and they're not all the same kind of painting. So it's to see see words is that kind of paint that you can use in different ways.
That is Graeme Harper, Dean of Oakland University Honors College in Michigan.
Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.
This episode is on Creative Writing, part of our podcast series on “College Majors” to serve as a Primer for High Schoolers.
We are fortunate to have Dean Harper, Professor and award winning novelist with us on our podcast.
Dean Harper came to Creative Writing by way of History and English Literature.
His first novel won an award, before it was even published.
Dean Harper has since published over 3 dozen fiction and non-fiction books.
Venkat Raman 1:24
In this Podcast, Dean Harper tells us what Creative Writing is, Elements of Creative Writing, Role of Imagination, the skills needed to study Creative Writing in College and the Career opportunities.
Venkat Raman 1:40
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
[What is Creative Writing?]
Creative Writing is indeed writing where the imagination is heightened. So the use of use of the imagination is at a heightened level. Which means that in many ways, it has similarities with other kinds of writing, except for that fact.
In many ways, that becomes the question, do you think it's fiction? Is it poetry? Is it a script? Is it something for a computer game, so you start to think about, what's the medium by which the imagination is is expressing itself?
[Process of Creative Writing]
Certainly read, because it will give you models, models to look at models to, to imitate models to actually challenge by doing something different.
[Tech & Creativity]
Literally many software programs and things that we now can get access to that helped generate ideas. And at least in some sense, take a little bit, if if a writer wants it to take a little bit, of the burden away from trying to generate potential structures and forms and so forth that the Creative Writing user. So I mean, it can be used in a very literal sense as a, as a mechanism to, I guess, make more creative, you could say.
If you've ever read, and I'm sure we all have a really great piece of creative writing a novel piece of poetry or whatever it happens to be, and thought, wow, how did that person express that way where that particular motion or that particular idea that way, you know that a good creative writer can be a very convincing job applicant for many jobs.
Venkat Raman 3:29
These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.
Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Venkat Raman 3:40
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Dean Harper.
So without further ado, here is Dean Graeme Harper!
Venkat Raman 3:50
With that, maybe we can jump in and ask the basic question, What is creative writing?
It's a it's a question, The question of what is Creative Writing is a basic question and yet somehow very complex. Because creative writing is indeed writing where the imagination is heightened. So the use of use of the imagination is at a heightened level, which means that in many ways, it has similarities with other kinds of writing except for that fact. So your imagination being heightened might mean that some of the areas that are explored or the ideas are explored or the emotions that are explored, are driven by this imaginative leap, which may or may be fantastical or, or unusual, or it may simply be a reconfiguration of what somebody has observed in the world. So it may not be fantastical, it may simply be a rereading, or it may come from memory, but all those things are actually a heightened version of the imagination. So it means that creative writing is not that different to other kinds of writing in many ways, except for that particular way which is the writing The overriding is heightened dimensionality of writing.
Venkat Raman 5:07
How do you, How do you get to that imaginative state, if you will? Or is that something that the Creative Writing Process wouldn't help with?
Well, you know, if you look at the fact that the imagination works in three ways, it either completely constructs from, as I say, a kind of imaginative fantasy. So it's completely fantastical and completely not about what is real and observable, more reconfigures. And it does, essentially a read reversion of reality. So it might be an alternative reality, but it's still an observable, or believable reality, or indeed, it draws from, from memory. So you can get to creative writing, from any one of those particular imaginative positions. And using that idea that it's essentially able to draw on one of those mentorship routes into the writing itself. Most of the rest of what happens with creative writing is about what sort of forms are available to us? Or what sort of forms of traditional to write creatively. So in many ways, that becomes the question, do you think it's fiction? Is it poetry? Is it a script? Is it something for a computer game? So you start to think about? What's the medium by which the imagination is is expressing itself?
Venkat Raman 6:38
Are those sort of the main elements of creative writing?
I think the main elements then are really their combination of okay, I'm going to be drawing on my imagination as as the tool and then what is that tool applied to, in terms of the form form and the structure? Yeah, yes, exactly. That's exactly it. So I think that the mystery of it needs to be not not so much gotten rid of, because I think it's wonderful to have things in the arts, in particular, that are slightly mysterious, and ethereal and maybe even slightly transcendental. So there are things beyond the ordinary. But at the same time, it's sometimes frightens people away from the idea of doing creative writing, because it somehow seems to be something that they might say, Oh, well, I'm not really a creative person, I think that that's exactly what stops people doing it. So I would say, you know, look at it as something that anybody can participate in, but at the same time, recognizing that the tool of the imagination that the fact that the imagination is the key thing, is the important part of it. In terms of the first recognition, then the second recognition is actually that there are structures and forms out there that we use for creative writing, that will make it familiar to other people, readers and audiences and so on.
Venkat Raman 7:53
How do you, how do you go about the process of creative writing? How does one sort of, if there is a recipe or set of steps Or Or is it as creative as the concept?
Wow, that's a good point. It is kind of as creative as concept itself. But I would say and it's somewhat of a cliche, but the clear, the real clue to it is to start, I mean, as I say, people worry about where to start worry about whether they can do it. beginning writers often find that the most difficult idea is essentially where and how and can I start? So I'd say simply start, that's the first thing simply start. And then ultimately, do read. I mean, reading is so important. And but for some people, maybe it's watch as well, I mean, it doesn't mean you have to see reading as reading on a page, it could be reading a screen, could be reading a visual image. So I'm not saying reading in a narrow sense, but certainly read. Because it'll give you models, models, to look at models to, to imitate models to actually challenge by doing something different, but that's another part of it as well. And so the process, the actual way of doing it, understanding it is obviously to, to begin, and to let you know, let the words in some ways that the ideas let the imagination that you're applying at a kind of heightened level, let it take you forward don't feel like there's anything that you need to do from a traditional sense, that has to be done. There is nothing in creative writing that has to be done. It's not like a technical manual or, you know, Guide to anything. It's not a form that requires you to do things in certain ways. So that's a real kind of release for people. On the other hand, it's also a real challenge. Let's begin and don't feel threatened by it. Let yourself go with the flow.
Venkat Raman 9:58
So just like other writing is there a, uh, you know, beginning middle and the end, or is this sort of really, you know, I don't want to say ill defined but it is, right, is left to you.
I think in terms of the end product, remember that creative writing is largely the actions you undertake and the actions you undertake, I'd say, what we want to try to understand in creative writing the product, the thing that you produce the object, the, the literature, if you like, in many cases, is a portion of it. So it's not the only thing. So there is there is often a beginning, middle, and end, often not always, in the end end product. But in the, in terms of the doing of it in terms of the action short course is somewhere you begin, there's always somewhere you ended in the middle, you're doing something. But ultimately, ultimately, it's a pretty fluid process. It's not the sort of thing you need to see as linear. So many creative writers will work sideways, if you like, they'll be going forward. But they're also revisiting, and so forth, they're not necessarily going forward in a step by step linear way and that that is totally fine and not to be fazed by that is, is one of the key key ideas is if you start to get fazed by the idea that you may go sideways, you may not necessarily progress very far, for days or weeks or months. That's not a problem. That's how creative writing tends to work with some people rattle on through to the end, and other people go backwards and forwards and crossways for for a lot of time, and that's all good. It's very individual.
Venkat Raman 11:42
So so how is Creative Writing changed over time? Is this sort of as old as humanity? Or is this something that is a relatively young area?
It is, I mean, once we began to write, so obviously, there's a prewriting stage. And remember, creative writing is only really, you can only really talk about it in terms of literate cultures. And I'm not talking about illiterate, illiterate culture. I'm talking about some parts of the world writing and reading and not the way in which people communicate, so we can't really see creative writing as something that is universal, or that it has to be, you know, it's part of the written, cultural world, not sure the non written cultural world, so that's entirely fine and non literate, the non written cultural world also explore stories and ideas and images, but often in an oral fashion and doesn't necessarily write it down. So, you know, this is something of a particular wide range of cultures, but it's still a particular range of cultures. And it has changed over time, because writing changes over time, the way in which we inscribe things has changed over time, technologies have changed tools from the, you know, obviously from, from scribing things, you know, stages where it was very mechanic or many mechanical process or right the way through to the digital processes we use now. But ultimately, the the tools have affected the way in which writing work. So absolutely right. Writing has similarities with its origins, but it also has substantial differences based on the way the tools have changed. And obviously, as the world's changed, ideas, cultural ideas, and so on, have influenced different writing forms, and new forms have emerged as well. So it's a fluid and constantly changing, as I say, art form but form of communication as well.
Venkat Raman 13:38
So it's an interesting thing that you just said, that tools have impacted the creative writing. It's a probably a larger philosophical question, but tools impacting how people how creative a person can be?
Graeme H 13:58
I think more so now than ever, of course, the amount of stimulus you can get because we have so much electronic influence, you know, that that's part of it. So they are in that respect, giving people more exposure to things that are beyond the local, which may and in some cases, obviously stimulate ideas that wouldn't otherwise have been stimulated. So you could say that makes people more creative in that respect. I think, you know, there's a lot of intriguing discussion from psychologists around what stimulates the imagination and what stimulates the mind generally. So I think, yeah, they're more more broad based exposures clearly, clearly, something we could argue, does that that high degree of stimulation, but there's also an element there. I think that there are many, literally many software programs and things that we now can get access to that help generate ideas and, at least in some sense, take a little bit if a writer wants it to take a little bit have the burden away from trying to generate potential structures and forms and so forth that the Creative Writing user, so I mean, it can be used in a very literal sense as a, as a mechanism to, I guess, make more creative, you could say, by using software that helps us do that. On the other hand, you know, the basics are really still there, the fact that what we're talking about is the human mind, being stimulated to communicate in a, you know, aesthetically pleasing way with a heightened imagination. And that is pretty much what creative writing has always been, it's just that the potential stimulus may be greater in the fact that you can perhaps draw on some electronic resources to help help you do that. So, you know, there are similarities to ancient times and things that are clearly a contemporary times.
Venkat Raman 15:48
Venkat Raman 15:52
So let's come back to the basic question then of creative writing your teaching courses is obviously part of curricula. So can we all learn creative writing? Is that Is that something? Is it teachable? learnable?
I think there's two things in that question. Firstly, the answer would be yes. I think everybody can learn to be a creative writer and learn to write creatively, I don't think there's any question about that. Anybody that can learn to write can learn to write creatively. So I don't see that as at all a question. But if we asked the second question, can anybody learn to be a great creative writer, they then we're in a different place. Because what we're really talking about there is obviously cultural, societal recognition of what is great literature, what is a great film script, and so on, and so on. That's a little different. That's a little bit about saying, what's what taste is being applied in the contemporary world to particular pieces of writing, you might appreciate something that somebody else doesn't appreciate. So it also gets kind of personalized. So in many ways, the question about some, can somebody be a good or great creative writer is different to whether somebody can write creatively? I would say the answer to the first is absolutely. And the answer to the second is maybe.
Venkat Raman 17:14
Okay, so basically, you're saying the structural aspects are absolutely teachable, you know, the impact or whatever the writing might have, is very different.
Graeme H 17:26
That's a good way of putting it that's, that's, that's a very good way to put it for sure.
Venkat Raman 17:33
So what, what do, what does a student need to have, by way of competency or skill, so that they can study creative writing, b.. first study, because then that will be in good part really depends.
So I think it's a it's a case of everybody in in again, literate, illiterate culture will be aiming to be able to write and read at a level that is able to, to support their role in in particular culture and society. So, the writing skills are likely to develop at different levels with different people at different points, but there will be a general sort of sense with anybody that they reach a certain point a kind of parameter of the general writing skills. The aspect then that people that are interested in Creative Writing need to get into the aspect is obviously the imaginative side. And clearly that ability to see words as an art, an art, our tool as well as the communication, media is going to be a key thing. So to do that, really it's play play playfulness is a key element to feel words can be used in a set aesthetic fashion, you know, can be used as, as a form of art, rather than use simply as communication medium. And to do that, to play with ways they can do that, to not feel too restricted by language use, but in fact, find it to be a little bit like obviously, you can paint a house or you can paint a portrait or a paint and paint, obviously a, you know, an abstract piece of abstract art, and they're not all the same kind of painting. So it's to see see words is that kind of paint that you can use in different ways. And I think that that's exactly it. It's to, to feel thrilled and excited by that imaginative language use and to try some things. There's always going to be things that don't work for every creative writer and that includes the most famous creative writers we can think of things that don't work. I would say as I say, enjoy it, enjoy the fun of it, enjoy the play of it, and use use words as as a creative means to express ideas and emotions and so forth. And that then that's the basic that's the basics. I mean, it will really need to get too hung up on some of the more technical structural aspects that they are. That aspect is learnable.
Venkat Raman 20:12
So what kind of career opportunities exist after getting a creative writing degree? I can think of a bunch. But then also, you know, a side question is, is this something that goes along with another major or topic or is it a standalone?
Increasingly, there's been a tendency to imagine credit writing as a standalone for many folks, because it does have so many elements to it. So it's possible to sort of study and major and, and make it a key focus. On the other hand, credit writers often partnered, obviously, with things like Literature and Language Study, it's sometimes partnered with things like cinema studies, occasionally, as part partner with other art for art areas, so music, and so forth. And even more interestingly, sometimes it's partnered with the social sciences and sciences. So there are ways in which Creative Writing does inform, and indeed can be, can be studied in partnership. It's most often in English Literature and Creative Writing partnership that we find. And that's probably the most common in every nation that does creative writing, or be English literature with creative writing. And, you know, in many ways that the fields are people go into a similar to the field, somebody studying English we go into, so you have all those areas where writing is substantial, whether it's in the communication industries, including things like, obviously, journalism media, and those areas. Creative Writing, though, also gives you the opportunity, I think, to show that you can use use language in a particularly spectacular way. So folks are often found in areas like advertising, marketing, and so on as well. And if you've ever read, and I'm sure we all have a really great piece of creative writing a novel piece of poetry or whatever it happens to be, and thought, wow, how did that person express that way? What that particular motion or that particular idea that way, you know that a good creative writer can be a very convincing job applicant for many jobs. Yeah. It's a key skill. It's like, you know, many other of the humanities and arts areas, there are many things you learn in creative writing, that can apply to many jobs, whether it's in business, or even in technology fields that don't seem obvious in terms of studying creative writing, but they clearly are fields that benefit from somebody who can write an imagined imaginative way. So it's quite a large range of things that creative writing can be used for, as a minor, or indeed, as a major.
Venkat Raman 22:48
If I can switch to a little personal discussion here, I just kind of wanted to talk about why you find creative writing, so exciting. How did you get into it? What's your own personal journey into this?
So I started off, really, as a historian and English literature major, and thought I would go into something actually, at one point connected with law really went on to study economic history. So that's, it's to some people quite dry. So it's a sort of a combination of history, and then studying the sort of statistical and general information about economies and so forth, that you feed into points of history, I mean, really doesn't suggest wildly creative activity. But what I, what I became interested in was sort of historical novel, and how that depicted particular times, people's lives in those times, and so forth, you know, it really got me interested in how fiction could actually explore the individual lives in parts of history. And I ended up writing a novel that won an award before it was even published, and then didn't get published. In fact, that was my next novel, it got published. And then it won, won an award. So at that point, I was still, you know, in my early 20s, and I had this Literary Award and realized that actually, I really enjoyed writing and it seemed as though it was something that I was at least reasonably good at. And then the first doctorate I was living in Australia, at that point, the first doctorate in creative writing was created at University of Technology, Sydney, and I was the first candidate to undertake it. And then next thing, next thing, you know, it wasn't quite next thing, you know, it took a few years, but I ended up with the first doctorate in creative writing that was awarded in Australia. So it was awarded for a novel that was published a few years later, and I continued on that track. So it was somewhat fortuitous, on the other hand, I guess it was their passion for expressing yourself through, as I say, the creative use of language that sort of drove me that direction because I honestly didn't I I wrote a little bit as a teenager, but not frankly, any more than anybody else. I wasn't a particularly passionate writer as a teenager. But late teens, early 20s, I wrote a couple of stories. And then by the time I was in my early to mid 20s, I was starting to undertake these more formal educational things that I really had not predicted I'd be doing so yeah, I think like many writers, you sort of come to it, because you're drawn to it after you've tried it a little bit. And I went on I started, did in fact, do another doctorate, I did two doctorates. I had a creative writing reference point. So in many, in many ways, I guess, it began to be something that I'd looked at, not just in a personal way, but the fact that the field was growing in higher education and universities than it has done for the last quarter of a century. Now, I sort of got involved in that. And here we are. So yeah, it's a great passion of mine. And it's something I enjoy personally. But I also know that the students I work with get so much out of it, that it's just wonderful to watch people explore creative writing, and see the spark that that emerges and what they do with it.
Venkat Raman 26:13
I wanted to ask you about, you know, the award that you got, you said before it was your novel was even even published. And now, you know, you know, in your case, you got a pretty clear, clear signal that you are good at it. Was that instrumental in sort of propelling you forward in the creative writing? Or did you have something within you that said that you were good at it? I'm just trying to get a sense of, how did you sort of arrive at that, that you were pretty good at it? Or very good at it?
Graeme H 26:45
Well, it's an interesting point, because I did have some early success. That way, as you say, and then then I tried some experiments, I think, you know, you do get a sense that you know, something about it, even though you're still questioning, perhaps, then you try something. And people say people say, they don't say it. impolitely, but they sort of say with the next thing, your attempt, oh, this is awful. And they don't necessarily say it to your face. And at that point, yeah, at that point, like with many riders at the same, you do begin to question so you have to have more than a belief, you can do it otherwise, you have to really want to do it, because somebody at some point, they won't necessarily say to your face, will think something you've done is pretty atrocious. And they will think that possibly if your whole writing career, I mean, it's basically has to be something that is within you that that drives you to do it. Otherwise you the tastes of other people, and the and the responses of other people and, and so forth are not going to be the sustenance that you need. The sustenance that you need to keep going is really your belief that you enjoy doing it. And you're feeling that it's something that you need to do. To communicate. It's not just just for yourself, it's often a case that you do want to communicate something that you hope other people enjoy reading or watching, as I say, in this case of theater, and film, and so forth. But now, I would say very much, it's got to be something within you, if you if you're reliant on the idea that you'll get great responses from everybody, because you kind of feel like you might know what you're doing, then you're going to come unstuck pretty quickly. Because you'll find at one point somebody will go now, there weren't as I say they might necessarily see it. But you will know that they didn't really think what you accomplished was all that great. So something within yourself for sure.
Venkat Raman 28:32
Yeah, that's a that's a great viewpoint. So finally, before I wrap it up, what is probably for you the most satisfying aspect of being a creative writer, the creative teacher of creative writing, what is what is probably the most exciting or satisfying work?
Graeme H 28:58
So there's sort of two questions there. I guess for me, on a personal level, I know that I'll be doing this for the rest of my life. It's something that I enjoy so much, I'll do it. Regardless, I enjoy coming up with an idea and exploring it to the end where it's something that's produced a novel or short story in particular. And I'll just do it, I just I'll do it. And these days, in many ways, I get things published with publishers I've worked with before. And so there's some satisfaction in that. But I think the biggest satisfaction is I know that I've got a medium to express myself that that I feel is a great medium to explore and, and to just share with other people. You know, I think then on the other hand, that aspect of, you know, studying it and continuing to do it and so forth. I think in that in that respect. There's an element there of knowing that students that are doing it will also feel that I often see and I did recently with a student who submitted a thesis, a senior project that she did As part of the Honors College, and it was just this most miraculous memoir, and it was a creative memoir, and I just read the first few pages and just thought this is a miraculous piece of work. So the one students just explore and find a medium that they enjoy come up with something that just makes me so excited about what they might do with their work both at the point of being students and if they continue to write. The other thing, of course, is nobody insists you, you continue to write. So if you're enjoying it, as a student, it's not an obligation to become a creative writer. And but on the other hand, knowing that you can do it and enjoying doing it, you've got something there that you can, it's like people that play music, but don't necessarily do it professionally. It's the same thing. There's no insistence you have to do it. But it's it is from a professor's point of view, a glorious thing to watch somebody use the medium of creative writing, and just do it so well and enjoy it so much while they're doing it. So whether you can go and do it professionally or not, or you're just doing it and you're enjoying doing it. I think from a professor point of view, it's just fabulous to see people doing this, and especially when you do it yourself and and you watch somebody do something and think wow, that's just spectacular. So very enjoyable.
Venkat Raman 31:15
Absolutely, absolutely. So thank you so much Graham for taking the time. And I thought it would be a little rushed. But I think that worked out really well. So thank you for taking the time and telling us about creative writing. I think high schoolers are going to benefit immensely from your viewpoints and your instruction here. So sure, we'll talk more but for right now, thank you so much again, take care be safe.
Graeme H 31:45
Thank you, anytime
Venkat Raman 31:48
Hope you enjoyed our podcast on Creative Writing with Dean Graeme Harper of Oakland University.
Dean Harper gives us a great overview of Creative Writing, Elements of Creative Writing, career opportunities, and skills to pursue undergraduate study.
I hope this podcast inspires you to learn more about Creative Writing as a major.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [email@example.com] with the Subject: Creative Writing.
Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.
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