Defending Creative Writing Classes


On a cloudy day last fall, I handed out my syllabus to my introductory creative writing class. It came with the usual suspects — character, point of view, and plot. We would learn to write stories, I said, by interrogating each of these building blocks of craft.

Then we dove right in, filling class time with rich discussions about each of these craft elements. The semester flew by. Students wrote stories, discussed, and workshopped.

On the last week, as reflection essays stacked up outside my office, it dawned on me that all semester I had danced around one vital question that students were beginning to ask on their own.

It is, perhaps, the most valuable question a creative writing teacher can ask a student: why write fiction?

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1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility

Monya Baker in Nature:

More than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments. Those are some of the telling figures that emerged from Nature’s survey of 1,576 researchers who took a brief online questionnaire on reproducibility in research.

The data reveal sometimes-contradictory attitudes towards reproducibility. Although 52% of those surveyed agree that there is a significant ‘crisis’ of reproducibility, less than 31% think that failure to reproduce published results means that the result is probably wrong, and most say that they still trust the published literature.

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Do You Believe in God, or Is That a Software Glitch?

Kate Murphy in The Times:

We’ve all seen them, those colorful images that show how our brains “light up” when we’re in love, playing a video game, craving chocolate, etc. Created using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fM.R.I., these pictures are the basis of tens of thousands of scientific papers, the backdrop to TED talks and supporting evidence in best-selling books that tell us how to maintain healthy relationships, make decisions, market products and lose weight.

But a study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uncovered flaws in the software researchers rely on to analyze fM.R.I. data. The glitch can cause false positives — suggesting brain activity where there is none — up to 70 percent of the time.

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Let Us Now Praise Famous Short Story Writers (And Demand They Write a Novel)

Amber Sparks in Electric Literature:

As a short story writer, I lived in denial for years. I pretended that the editors were all wrong when they said that short story collections don’t sell, that the Goodreads comments were sullen outliers. After all, most of my friends loved short stories! Never mind that most of my friends were writers, and when I told non-writer friends that my book was a short story collection they were congratulatory but fervent in their expressed hopes that I would someday, finally, write a novel. I did, one sad afternoon, suck it up and start asking people — non-writers — whether they read or enjoyed short stories, and after that proved too dispiriting I took to the internet and read lots of reviews and comments and criticisms and understood, finally: It’s all true.

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The Beautiful Powers of Unconscious Thought

Ap Dijksterhuis in Psychological Science Agenda:

When you are facing an important decision, others will sometimes tell you to postpone your decision and “sleep on it” first. In my case it was often my grandmother who gave me this advice. It is a belief many people intuitively share: It helps to put a problem aside for some time in order to arrive at a better decision. Somehow, waiting seems to help us to differentiate between the vital and the futile. Postponing a decision helps us to base our decisions on the appropriate reasons.

But does this “folk belief” hold in a scientific experiment?

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