I come from a family of teachers and one of the great joys of my life has been teaching creative writing, which I’ve done at various universities. I was mentored by a brilliant creative writing teacher in college and she’s always been with me when I read and discussed students’ writing. Her goal was always to help students deepen what they wrote, find what needed to be strengthened, and improve what they already did well.
Writing workshops are very demanding. You have to stay focused as you shift from one person’s story or essay to the next, keep things lively and entertaining, make comments that encourage your students, weave together what people are saying and writing, and make useful, salient points.
The venues I’ve taught in haven’t always been ideal. Rooms can be too warm or too cold, too small, or just plain off-putting. And fluorescent lights are terrible, especially after a few hours. Being given a creative writing class with twenty-five students (or even thirty) is more than just a challenge. It’s cruel to the students, a sign of cynicism on the part of a university which cares more about money than pedagogy. Highly-paid administrators don’t seem to understand that this kind of class is far more intimate than most, and that students need much more feedback than they do in other kinds of classes.
Teaching online changes all that for me. I get to limit enrollment to a very manageable ten students. That means everyone has truly significant feedback at every level via Track Changes, from style to structure and content. The assignments don’t all come in at the same time, which creates a better rhythm for reading and responding.
I also don’t get distracted by people arriving late, forgetting to turn in their assignments or having printer trouble, or texting when they should be paying attention to their peers. In effect, I’m doing an independent study with each participant, so they’re getting more help, advice, encouragement, and analysis for their writing than would be possible in a traditional workshop.
Best of all, I don’t have to worry about finding a parking space and I’m out of the toxic academic environment with overbearing administrators and unfriendly colleagues. This is pure teaching, and tremendous fun.
Lev Raphael is the author of The Vampyre of Gotham and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery. He teaches creative writing online at writewithoutborders.com.“Studying creative writing with Lev Raphael was like seeing Blade Runner for the first time: simply incredible.”
—Kyle Roberts, MSU Class of 2016