Critic Becomes Creator in Marcus Emanuel’s Autumn Quarter Reflection

Flipping the Script:
An MAE Student’s Experiment in Creative Writing

Fellow MAE students, picture this: your reading list for class is just one book. For the entire quarter, one 250 page book. Sure, there are a few supplemental readings thrown in, but those are only “if you have time this week.” Otherwise, for the next ten weeks you’re responsible for getting through just one simple paperback. This was the beginning of my first MAWP class.

Don’t be fooled, while the reading load was certainly lighter (even if you figure in the two or three peer stories a week), the workload was not. You can stay up all night fighting through The Dubliners if you have to — it’s a little more difficult fighting through writer’s block. Here’s a convoluted simile: it’s like that moment in triathlons where the triathletes switch from biking to running. Switching from an MAE to an MAWP class works out muscles you didn’t even know you weren’t using. But, as it turns out, these are muscles that, this whole time, you probably should have been.

Professor Dan Stolar of my Writing Fiction Workshop had one essential principle which he wrote in large block letters on the first day of class: your writing should have Significant Concrete Details, as many as possible. This, obviously, was not his only advice, but it’s fair to say it was something of a theme that ran throughout the course. And, I think it’s also fair to say, it was something that was transformative to the writing of everyone in the class, including my own. From the first round of stories to the second, I watched everyone’s writing not just improve, but improve in a way that allowed their own style to be both more understandable and more developed. My first story, what I thought was my soul in ink, landed more or less with a thud. My second, based on peer and professorial guidance — and a stringent focus on significant concrete details —  was significantly more resounding, for me and (I hope) my audience.text2

Just as it was both refreshing and helpful to switch gears in my writing, so was it was also a welcome change in my critiquing (RW). Consider, the concept of authorial intention. Something of a black sheep in the MAE world, it was treated gingerly in the MWP world as well. To simply ask what the author meant was to cheat yourself and the work. But, by Professor Stolar occasionally asking what were you the author trying to do here — by hearing what the author thought the story meant and what the audience thought (and knowing what I thought) — the slippage between signifier and signified was illustrated in a whole new way.

Can you be a film critic if you’ve never worked on a film set? Probably, but it is undoubtedly limiting. Can you be a literary critic without developing your own writing skills? Maybe, but when you have access to the extensive experience that can be found in the MWP program, why not take advantage of it?

-Marcus Emanuel, MAE

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