Dr. Curtis Crisler, Associate Professor of English at IPFW, answered our questions and provided writing insights from his own expert experience.
“Do you have a particular way you research and write?” -Heather D.
I would say that my way of researching varies depending on the genre for which I am writing. For example, with a recent project, Playbook for an Urban Midwestern Sensibility: Crafting Work Cross-Genres, which defines my “urban Midwestern sensibility” (uMs) through a historical lens. It illustrates how museums, especially African American museums, have been beneficial to Black creativity. I meld this research along with different genres of writing: poetry, fiction, drama, and essay, to solidify a practical focus and context of how uMs functions.
For the Playbook project, done on sabbatical, I interviewed people (face-to-face and through email), I traveled to different locales (to museums in NY, DC, Chicago, and Detroit), worked with different museum librarians and staff, partook in MoMA’s showing of “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series (which helped me create the “Prelude” to Playbook, along with secondary sources. Again, all of this to create a “playbook” illustrating how uMs works in practice.
Whereas research for a poetry book, and for each individual poem, can be inspired by an image, a dialogue, a shape, a color, from personal history, current events, secondary sources, and so on. It would depend upon the individual poem, and what that poem is asking of me. Now, put 40-60 individual poems together, that speak/complement each other to create a full manuscript.
So, although there is overlap in my research process, there is also a difference to how I can complete a given project.
“Was learning how to write well important to your field?”
Yes, learning how to write in my field was/is very important. I would say it’s an ongoing process as well. Although I have my voice, I still know that understanding the mechanics of structure and style are very important skills to add to my skills box. Having skills at the ready, is never a bad thing. Just like having tools in one’s toolbox, one should have skills in their skills box.
More importantly, as a writer, I have to learn how to manipulate/adapt to writing in many venues: academic, professional, personal, etc. I want my students to know that they need a myriad of tools/skills when it comes to writing. In most of my writing courses (poetry/ fiction/ creative nonfiction/ technical/ composition/ supplementary, etc.) students can write questions for contemporary writers, essays, peer reviews, self-evaluations, do blogging, free writing, drafting, proposals, instructions, and journaling for example. Even more, students (as well as myself) need to know how to manipulate/adapt our skills to apply for grants, scholarships, fellowships, housing, jobs, and the like. Writing skills are vastly important, and must always be kept sharp, as best as one can.
“Do you have any advice for students?”
My advice to writers is to read and write. You can’t get beyond the basic tenets of the craft. Someone once told my graduate class that “You have to love writing because writing will not love you back.” That hit me so hard in my mind-space, head-on, like it a Mack truck. As harsh as that sounds, it is so true. There is no one there with you at 3am, when an image needs tending to, or you are writing, like I am now, about something that has been on your mind and you desperately must put it on the page. I always tell my students, no one is going to write a book, come to you and say, “You can put your name on it now.” There is no substituting “putting your butt in the seat.” – Dr. Crisler