Whew! The Whitman MOOC is officially done. I met some interesting people and enjoyed discussing Whitman and writing in general with them, and the professors were amazing. I learned a lot and even tried writing poetry, which was quite challenging.
For me, the best thing about the class was getting out of my comfort zone. I write speculative fiction, but for most of the class assignments I wrote about my own experiences. As the subject was writing and imaging loss, this involved ripping open some emotional scars and transforming pain into art. Writing about something that really happened to real people was harder on an emotional level, but easier on a craft level. Usually I have to make up everything from my characters to the world they inhabit. This time I knew my "characters" and I could just pick telling details from my own memories. These characters automatically sound like real people, because they are.
That raises the question, am I hiding behind my speculative fiction lens, keeping the writing at an arm's length? Or is it a good thing to have some emotional distance? Will the story become therapy if you write about very personal things?
I honestly don't know. I do know that while I was comfortable sharing the assignments with the class, I wouldn't submit some of them to magazines, no matter how much good feedback I got. Too personal.
On the other hand, some parts of me will always get into my writing, even if on an unconscious level. Probably people close to me can see it clearer than I can. Nonetheless, I'd like to bring that raw emotion and honesty that came through in these pieces to my speculative fiction. I think the last piece I wrote for the class struck a nice balance between fiction and documenting what really happened.
All in all, I enjoyed the experience and will absolutely take part in next year's class, assuming they have one.
I just found out that one of the students is thinking about collecting and publishing some of the work we did for the class in a poetry book, and I said I'd participate if one of the less personal pieces would do. We'll see. I'm glad she's doing it, because many of the pieces I read and gave feedback on were really moving and beautiful, so it would be a shame if only the people in the MOOC saw them.