Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The First Draft and the Academy

Creative Writing pedagogy and assessment is often (and for lots of good reasons) oriented toward the mature or final draft. Where the assessment requires some kind of reflective commentary, for instance, the process of redrafting and polishing creates lots of fruitful material for discussion. Besides, many skilled creative practitioners encounter their own tacit competence as an inaccessible opacity. So the existence of multiple versions of the same creative work, layered with feedback or theoretical input, may help to bring aspects of the writer's creative practice into the realm of explicit argumentation and evaluation.

There are those rare writers whose work really does spill out fully-formed, and they are presumably a little let down by this emphasis. But I'm not really concerned with them here (mainly I'm just well jels of them). I'm more interested in the more common type of writer, whose work by-and-large gets better the more they revise it.

At PhD or MFA level, writers have a chance to submit novels, plays, feature length film scripts, collections of short stories, etc.: drafting them, revising them, reflecting on them, and buffing them to a sheen. The last metaphor is more appropriate for some writers than for others. Some writers like to correct their draft manuscripts; others like to wrong them. But what about Masters level? There's a good case to be made for offering the writer the option to attempt a full-length work, even though student-teacher contact hours, and the practicalities of marking, don't really allow for it to be developed and assessed in the same way it would be on a terminal degree.

Can a first draft be marked as a first draft? Would something like this be, I wonder, bonkers? Is it anything like this already on offer somewhere?

5,000 word excerpt (polished)
60,000-120,000 complete first draft, 1,000-2,000 words synopsis + plan for further development (30%)
2,000 word reflective commentary (20%)

The excerpt is assessed as normal. The rest is rapidly skimmed, with careful reading of a few random samples scattered throughout, and is marked on a different set of criteria. How complete does the draft appear? Does it appropriately lay the groundwork for the second draft? Does it appear to align to the synopsis? Are its weak and/or inchoate aspects addressed in the development plan? Are there lacunae or obvious continuity problems? The examiner is not primarily focused on skill or imagination, but on the preliminary sweat-of-the-brow of building a framework for later acts of skill and imagination.

I'm interested in the practicalities of this, of course, and also, really, the wider questions about the quantification of the provisional. Although I'm not sure what those questions are.

No comments:

Post a Comment