We’ll be holding an informational discussion about the creative thesis this Friday, November 18, at 1:00 in over very own Anscombe Lounge. Jeff McMahon, Maren Robinson, Rachel Watson and I (Ben Shurtleff) will all be there to explain some of the expectations involved in writing a creative thesis: what it’s like doing creative work during winter quarter, and what you’ll have to turn in come springtime. We all have varied and valuable insights about writing at different academic and professional levels, and specifically, about what doing creative work during a MAPH year requires. While many of your peers spend their glassy-eyed days arguing with other academics in their heads, you might feel a little silly as a creative writer, when you may only be arguing with yourself (and maybe your professors). Creative writing at U of C comes with its own unique set of rewards and challenges, so the meeting will not be one to miss if you’re planning on writing a creative thesis, or if you’re just curious about what it entails.
Some important but easily answerable questions:
What sort of things have students done as a creative thesis?
Collections of poetry or short stories; a novel or excerpts from a novel; creative non-fiction pieces; a dramatic piece, either the script of a play, or a performance; children’s books; films; photography portfolios, visual or installation art; dance numbers; figure skating routines. There’s really a lot of freedom going on.
Do you have to be in the Creative Writing Option to do a creative thesis?
No, of course not. That would be insanely prescriptive of us. Although being in the option does guarantee you a spot in a thesis writing workshop in the winter quarter.
Do you have to be signed up in the creative writing option to take a thesis writing workshop?
No, but since people who are in the creative writing option have priority, enrollment for that class will have to be low enough that the professor has an extra space. Go ahead and give it a shot–but be polite and humble, because who would want to let you into your class if you weren’t?
How long is the creative writing critical component?
Typically 8 to 10 pages.
What can a critical component entail?
It varies, but the idea is to do some writing in a format that is different and most likely more formal than your creative piece, something which engages or connects with your work from a different and often more analytic perspective. Relating to your work does not necessarily require that you write your critical component about your creative piece (although you can do this). In the past, students have written critical essays about works that inspired their creative projects, or essays that related to their creative thesis, but in a medium outside of their creative genre.
Does your advisor need to be a creative writer in your genre, or even a professor of creative writing at all?
No! My advisor was a professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. All you need to do is get these fools to agree to advise your project; it doesn’t matter how qualified they are to do it! But generally people here are very smart, so if they’re enthusiastic enough to advise your project, they’ll probably have brilliant feedback, too.
Will my thesis discussion groups combine everyone doing a creative thesis into one workshop group?
Most likely not. Having input from people involved in different projects is almost always enlightening, informative and helpful. Here are some wise parting words from Maren Robinson–writer, dramaturg, and former creative thesis writer–about getting the most out of your thesis discussion groups, as well as some general comments about doing creative work at U of C:
Doing creative work at the University of Chicago can sometimes seem isolating. Particularly when you hear other MAPHers talk about their theses that are taking a specific academic form. Also the time and type of effort required by creative work can have very different time requirements over the next two quarters. It is important to remember a couple of things. You will find good readers in your precept group and their honest responses can be incredibly useful. Think of them as a smart audience for your work. It is also important to have time to write and other writers to connect with. Winter quarter is a great time to take a writing workshop to give yourself time to write and think about your writing.
A note about the critical component: This is one of the things that makes MAPH different and I think you can really use it to your advantage as a way of both thinking about your own work and thinking about other publishable forms of writing. Be sure you don’t give this portion short shrift.
Finally, you have lots of resources in the MAPH office. Feel free to talk to any one of us. I write fiction and drama, but in my work as a dramaturg I work with writers to help them think of ways to address problems in their work so feel free to bring your work by if you want to talk through something you’ve been writing.
During the discussion this Friday (1 pm in Anscombe Lounge), we’ll give more in-depth advice, and field any questions you have. See you then!