Creative writing, meet academia

This post was written by current student, Emma Burston.

Sketch of a coffee cup sitting on the desk of a home office.
Sketched representation of the office in a group home. A coffee cup sitting on the desk takes on object narration in a fictional story used to generate discussion around the triumphs and frustrations of life in supportive housing.


I think I lost the will and drive to write somewhere along my academic journey in the undertow of research methods and annotated bibliographies. The content remained interesting and the zest for learning remained strong but writing became the chore. I became more of an academic machine than a participant. Write a paper, edit the draft, submit it, hope to never need to read it again, sigh a glorious sigh of relief. These steps are not particularly complementary to an upcoming thesis project. You can imagine my angst.

Exercise #2: Reddit /r/WritingPrompts

Today’s was: You’re trying to talk someone down who genuinely thinks that he/she is Superman/woman.

Something clicked when I began to explore the notion of creative writing again. Describing something you love or abhor, from the point of view of another, with feeling. A professor encouraged me to write about what I wanted, to share my ideas, and to explore them. A strategic pairing of Writing for Disability Activism and my independent thesis project was a happy marriage of plentiful intersections. Exposure to a plethora of writing styles and mediums shaped my voice and styles of writing, delving into a reading list with inspired content broadened my understanding, and an appreciation for the learning that occurs among interdisciplinary experiences developed.

Our time together in a cohesive classroom reinforced the importance of cross disciplinary reaches; a recurring theme in disability studies. As students our experiences and titles span across many professional environments. Our educators are varied in their accomplishments and focus. Our professional end goal objectives and interests greatly vary. Intra-disability studies is a full network of interdisciplinary works, many of whose main goal is to educate across systems to promote understanding, where there may have previously been a lackthereof. This notion would soon become my muse for merging creative writing and interdisciplinary learning objectives, propelling new learners in the disability studies realm, to carry their understanding across their own disciplines.

Exercise #3: Write for 3 minutes straight. No stopping, no erasing, just go.

I brought forward an idea that would have stayed quiet in the corners of my mind when I enrolled in Writing for Disability Activism. There, a piece of writing surfaced-the narrative of one person of support exploring the triumphs and irritations of life in a residential group home from the perspective of an observant coffee cup. It was not simply met with encouragement from my peers and professor but it was aided along the way with beneficial moments of sharing and feedback, editing sessions, and comfortable open discussion. The story grew with my classmates’ experiences and input, shaped through the empowering effects of a supportive academic environment on a creative writing process. I received colourful feedback from my peers as they sifted through creative content to bring out themes of disability hierarchy, models of care, and many other personally poignant themes present in the world of front line support work.

Exercise #4: Review what you’ve written and insert emotion: irritation, anger, joy, boredom, etc.

It’s absurd to imagine removing the emotion from an everyday understanding of experience, so why do we intend to remove it from our writing? As authors we’re encouraged to write ourselves out of the essay, and as researches we are urged  to remain objective in our observations. Amongst my exploration around art based methods for research I’ve discovered a certain knowledge that creative mediums evoke an understanding of complex human concepts. Within disability studies we take up themes of embodiment, experience, and dis/ableism; content with a heavy need for empathetic understanding. In my work with fiction as a method for interdisciplinary learning I intend to celebrate emotional content, using accessible and plain language to create a piece of writing that spans wider than the confines of the typical academic journal. Without the pairing of a brilliantly conducted Writing for Disability Activism course and an independent thesis opportunity fully sparked by the former, these aspirations would never have made it to paper or computer screen. I’m elated to say that it’s the writing that excites me; process, action, and analysis inclusive. The chips in my paint have been ignored, my cats claws are razor sharp, and my dirty tea cup collection has doubled.


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