In the News
These two newspaper articles describe the “feel” of our unique approach to creative writing instruction, where process takes priority over product and beginning writers are encouraged to grow to their full potential.
We’ve transferred the ambiance of the writing workshops described by these reporters into our online writing classes, which are suitable for all genres: poetry writing, fiction writing, non-fiction writing and screenplay writing.
SEEDS OF CHANGE
from The Village Voice Educational Supplement
During college, one of my favorite courses was “Writing Poetry and Fiction.” Unlike other writing classes I had taken, it was not crowded and impersonal, but small and intimate, providing a supportive atmosphere for students who were serious — but nervous — about writing.
The Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing also has a warm, supportive atmosphere for beginning writers. On the night I attended, my classmates and I worked on forming a “tree” of ideas, with the “roots” representing preliminary ideas and the “fruit” being the maturation of those same ideas.
Although I usually shy away from writing exercises of any kind, I found this to be a refreshing and effective exercise for people (like me) who have a hard time letting their creative side blossom.
WORDS FIND WINGS
from The Woodstock Times
The arctic emptiness of a new sheet of paper, a silent typewriter, the impatiently blinking cursor on a computer screen: these are the things the writer faces every day. They can be a boon, a fresh start, a new opportunity, a creative catalyst. But sometimes they can be a bane, a horrible void, a mocking mirror reflecting a mind that grows blanker by the minute.
Elizabeth Ayres would like to end the tyranny of the blank page. Through her Writing the Wave Workshop, she helps the writer tap into the creative wellspring, to claim what she calls their “birthright of creative self-expression,” to face fresh paper with fresh confidence.
Unlike other creative writing courses, Ayres says, Writing the Wave caters specifically to those writers she likes to call “intimidated fledglings.” “I don’t like that word beginner, because most of the people that I am trying to reach have had a long-standing relationship with writing,” Ayres explains. “Usually they’ve been floundering around, trying to get somewhere with writing. [They’re] more mature people who have a lot of wisdom inside of them that they want to try to get onto the page.”
Ayres, a poet whose works are published in The Malahat Review, Bitterroot, the anthology Fresh Paint and numerous other publications, has been teaching creative writing for 25 years, at New York University and through various programs like Poets-in-the-Schools. In 1990, she founded her Center for Creative Writing as a way of helping others to “share their wisdom with humanity.”
Ayres, a quick and thoughtful speaker whose strong spirituality permeates her life and work, de-emphasizes her philosophical side in teaching creative writing. “It’s a part of who I am, but it’s not necessarily relevant to the work I do from [the students’] point of view,” she explains. Neither does Ayres take a traditional, academic approach to writing instruction; her workshops are designed to offer the writer more guidance and structure than other courses, through exercises that “break the writing process down into component parts the way a chemical compound beaks down into elements,” she says. “The fledgling learns how to recombine those parts for [him or her] self.” Each of Ayres’ exercises teaches a fundamental principle of the creative writing process, she explains. “The principle kind of transforms itself into a technique through the exercise, so that when [students] finish, they have a structure that they can use and repeat on their own.”
Ayres notes that her approach works for any type of creative writing, be it playwrighting, poetry writing, fiction writing, non-fiction writing — even screenplay writing. “What I help people do is get down inside of their source of imagination, their source of ideas, the center of their souls. Then the exercise gives them a way to bring those ideas forth onto paper. How they bring that forth is up to them, and it will depend on what that particular person’s gifts are.”
Although her techniques are geared toward fledglings, Ayres notes that the experienced writer can also benefit from her workshops, “as long as that person isn’t taking the workshop in order to prove how terrific they are. What the exercises do for more experienced writers is open up a new door, get someone’s imagination sparked in ways that they might not come up with on their own.”
Anyone can be a writer if they have the desire, Ayres maintains, but self-doubts combined with a culture that isn’t conducive to creativity get in the way for many would-be writers. “Most of us grow up believing in school that our true voice, just being ourselves on the page, is not enough, and that somehow we have to have a super vocabulary, be geniuses, we have to be crazy. People have very poor models of what creativity is, and what real writers go through,” she says. “They think real writers just come up with it right away, that War and Peace just flowed out of Tolstoy’s pen just like that. So when they sit down to write and they get garbage the first time, they think that means they don’t have talent. As Brenda Upland says, everyone is talented and original and has something to say,” Ayres continues. “Almost anyone who has the desire can be trained to bring their true self forth into words on the page.”
From its modest beginnings in 1990, with six students, close to nine hundred students [over 2,500 in 2012] have taken some portion of Ayres’ program. Many of these have completed novels and other works begun at workshops. Writing has many benefits, avers Ayres. “Creative self-expression of one kind or another is the birthright of the human being, so I think that one thing that the non-professional writer gets out of it is the joy of being fully human by claiming that birthright,” she says. “It’s a tremendously pleasurable act, which our culture does not allow much room for, the spontaneity, the playfulness of putting words together in new ways, playing with language. It just helps a person be more whole in a culture that mitigates against wholeness.”