Writers Circle helps improve creativity

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Colorful compliments and helpful criticism echo in Eder 211 after students read the short stories and poems they have been working hard on aloud. English professor and leader of Writers Circle, Dana Andrews, throws out “That’s good shit, man,” and “You can’t teach that” to his “veterans” that have been with the group for semesters.

(Clockwise, from left) Katie Walkup, Caroline Johnson, Dana Andrews, Ian Roberts and Matthew Kurtz work through a meeting of the Writers Circle. Photo by Alison Beattie

English professors Andrews and Meg Thompson were approached by colleague Patricia Donaher in October 2007, who had an idea to create Writers Circle as an extension of the Sigma Tau Delta honor society. Donaher knew Andrews and Thompson had Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, so she thought they would be perfect for the job.

To Andrews, however, Writers Circle is not a job.

“It’s voluntary; I don’t get paid,” Andrews said, “but it’s part our job to have service to the department and to the university, and it’s also fun. We get to see budding writers, people who have some talent, stuff like that, so it’s fun.”

It is fun and laid-back, which is why Andrews said Writers Circle is not a place where students should go to get help on academic papers. The point of Writers Circle is to help students improve on their creative writing skills, and creative writing skills only, which is what senior Caroline Johnson enjoys about the group.

“There’s a little more freedom [in Writers Circle],” the member of two and a half years said. “You get to choose what you want to do, and it’s not a class.”

Anyone is welcome to come and bring projects or scripts they have been working on (whether it be one-act plays, poetry, short stories, etc.) for critiques from other students, Andrews and English professor Ian Roberts, who has taken over for Thompson.

Yes, critiques. Students shouldn’t expect to just get a pat on the back — Andrews and Roberts are looking to help students develop their writing skills, and one cannot do that without understanding viewpoints from others. However, Andrews’ goal is never to “slam” someone, which students, like longtime member Matthew Kurtz, notices and abides by.

“[Andrews] gives criticism at the right amount,” Kurtz said. “We make it a point not to say bad stuff for the sake of saying bad stuff. We try our best to be as constructive as possible.”

Andrews likes to see his students gain confidence in their abilities and take command in their work, and after reading a student’s piece, Andrews starts off with the negative comments and ends with the positives.

Kurtz says Writers Circle is all about self-improvement and said Andrews and Roberts encourage students to figure out how to fix weak points in a piece on their own. Kurtz also said the professors also have a lot of experience and provide insight of not just how to write a story, but how to make it presentable for publication.

Writers Circle takes place every Thursday at 12:30 in Eder 211. Andrews is a firm believer that there is a writer in everyone, which is why students don’t have to be in creative writing classes to join the group. Kurtz is a history major, and Johnson is a psychology major. Both students are minoring in creative writing, and they take time out of their day to write.

Ultimately, Kurtz believes Writers Circle is a good way to get feedback and improve on writing skills and thinks students should give Writers Circle a shot.

“It’s a good place whether you’re starting out writing or you’ve been working at it for awhile; it’s a good place for advice. You’re not required to come every week, and it’s very informal, so just come by and bring your stuff.”

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