Crafting Creativity: Nurturing Personal Growth and Student Success in Creative Writing

Creative Writing

Guest Blog by Professor Sandee Gertz

I have always felt that to teach any subject, one should be greatly invested in the topic both in and out of the classroom. As an educator, I have a responsibility, not only to teach, but to keep engaged with my craft professionally so that I can demonstrate by example the life of a creative writer and poet. One of the most valuable ways I can demonstrate experiential learning for students is in the publishing arena.

Many students may find that writing comes naturally, but what often doesn’t come naturally is stepping out of our comfort zones- the act of putting yourself out there and submitting work to literary journals and other publications or contests. For students and anyone seeking to see their work in print, there is always the possibility of rejection, especially when publications take such a small percentage of pieces. Personally, I had to get over that hurdle many years ago and found that rejection is just part of the process of being a writer; we have to have faith that if we are persistent, the right editors and journals will want our work. 

For example, I published poems for many years before finally seeing my full-length poetry collection, The Pattern Maker’s Daughter, published with Bottom Dog Press in 2012. And since that time, publishing can still often be “hit or miss.” To keep myself honest, I often share with students the rejections and triumph stories I’ve had over the years to show them it’s all part of the literary journey. In our classes, we celebrate publication credits of students as well as encourage each other to strive for excellence and to keep submitting. 

Earlier this semester I was fortunate enough to win the Mary Jean Irion prize for a single poem, sponsored by the Friends of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Writing Center, a contest open to anyone who has been on the grounds of the famed institution. Award-winning poet and Professor and Poetry Editor for the University of Akron Press, Mary Biddinger, was the judge. To be recognized by such an esteemed poet is both encouraging and motivating, and to have my poem, “The Leavings” be awarded was a “win” I could share with students to show the value of persistence and to remind them that their own work will most certainly be rewarded in similar ways as they continue to grow.

One way that helps students get a feel for what journals are looking to publish is through Cumberland’s Novus Literary Arts Journal, a publication of the Creative and Professional Writing Program. Our students are able to review the creative work and art from individuals around the world and have the opportunity to see what established writing looks like, and to see what mistakes they can avoid when submitting themselves. The journal is also often one of their first credits as Novus accepts the top work of Cumberland students alongside well-published writers and poets. This allows them to be part of developing an international journal they can be immensely proud of. It also helps to develop editing skills and other trade practices that will be valuable to have on their resumes and in their future careers. 

Another way that students can grow in their craft is to find a writing community outside the university once they graduate. Traveling is one way to do this and one that I’ve found to be very enriching to my career. Each summer, I attend various writing colonies or workshops to help continue my own growth in poetry and other writing. Besides the Chautauqua Institute’s Literary Arts Center, which I’ve attended for decades, many creative writing workshops are held in wonderful places in Europe and around the world. I have attended ones in Spoleto and Postignano Italy, twice in Paris, France, and as of the past two years have become a regular member of the Sancho Panza Literary Society’s Workshops in Dublin, Ireland. We have the opportunity to be contributing editors and writers for their literary journal, New Square, and to travel together within the United States for readings. I’ll be traveling to Washington, D.C.’s Washington Media Institute for a reading later in October with the group, and these connections have been invaluable to me as a writer. Currently I am working to finish a novel of magical realism and I have found that having a “writing tribe” is a way to try out new material and to grow in craft. 

As our students approach graduation, I try to connect them to workshops and connections abroad as well. For example, Sancho Panza and New Square are having a literary competition for undergraduate writers, and I’ve been able to encourage submissions from our Cumberland students to this contest and to assist them with discovering M.F.A. programs. 

To that end, this semester, we are fortunate to have Anders Carlson-Wee returning as our Poet in Residence who will not only be doing campus-wide readings and activities, but will be meeting individually with upper level students to review their work and to potentially recommend them to graduate studies. This is an unprecedented experience for our students and one that provides limitless value. Having relationships with poets and other authors has allowed us to develop a Writer in Residence Series that seeks to enrich our student learning beyond what we can offer on a day to day level. We’ve been able to bring many renowned poets and writers, such as National Book Award Winner and novelist, Colum McCann, to campus who, in turn, help assist our students in new and dynamic ways. 

In our inaugural year of the program in 2017, Anders was our first visitor and made a documented impact on our student body that is still resonating. Now he is committing to further affiliation with Novus and our students by returning to Cumberland this October 18 and 19 for an immersive engagement with our student body. Anders’ second full collection, Disease of Kings has just been released by W.W. Norton, and he has previously been directly affiliated with Novus by donating his out of print poems to our online journal. This new engagement experience further solidifies his commitment to Cumberland students. 

In addition to working directly with our campus population, Anders will be interacting with high school students who have been invited to campus from our regional schools to participate in a Creative Writing contest. 

Our goal is to continue creating awareness for the Literary Arts. We want to be a literary force in the region and a dynamic and innovative choice for anyone considering a career in creative writing.

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