The Creative Writing & Research Interviews: Jen Webb (part 2)

The Creative Writing & Research Interviews are a series of interviews with writer-researchers about the field and their own work.

Niyousha writes: Dr. Jen webb is Distinguished Professor, Creative Practice, at the University of Canberra. Her research focuses on the politics and social location of art, and on the process and practice of creative writing. She is also the author of the Creative Writing Studies publication, Researching Creative Writing.

This is the second part of this interview, the first part was posted here.

Why did you write Researching Creative Writing?

I’ve been teaching research methods for quite a long time, and couldn’t find a good book to use. Also my approach is not ‘The Way’; it is my way, and is informed by my own training as a cultural theorist, and my own experience of working and teaching and researching and making. And I hoped my experience would be useful to others.

Which part of the creative writing process do you enjoy the most? And which part of the research process?

The part of the creative writing process I enjoy the most is probably that shock, or spark, when you know a potential story or poem has just tapped you on the shoulder, and that you can make something of it.

It’s a bit like falling in love – the getting to know your moves, the testing of the edges, finding a way to speak, finding a way into the situation.

It’s also wonderful when you have a full draft and you know it has legs. It’s not ready to go yet, but the promise of that initial galvanising moment is starting to be fulfilled. After that it’s agony, all the way – trying to get it right; trying not to break the things that are working well; trying to remain true to the logic, the identity, of the work itself; knowing you can never really make it right, not in any final testable way.

The part of the research process I like best? There’s a different passion, a different energy, in this practice – at least for me. I quite like the sudden flicker of possibility on hearing or reading or thinking something. I like the design stage, when I’ve completed the epistemological preliminaries and am working out how and why I will do the project.

I love and hate the data gathering – it’s so terribly harrowing to do interviews (interrupting busy people; asking banal questions; the horror of possibly losing an interview; etc etc etc – let your own inner demon fill in the worst possibilities for you), but the people I have interviewed are overwhelming generous, interesting, kind, engaged and offering such rich conversation.

Then the drudge of transcribing and editing and beginning to organise that data and the rush of excitement as lines of thought begin to emerge, trends and directions. (All this is true of archival research too, except that there’s no social anxiety about engaging with documents!)

The writing up is great: heavy going as you try first to put in everything that has emerged from the research, but you speak firmly to yourself and structure the writing.

Finding the voice for each piece of academic writing. Resentfully and regretfully trimming the rhetorical or poetic flourishes (because academic publishers, though they all rave about the glories of, say, Gilles Deleuze or Rachel Blau DuPlessis sure fear publishing anything that doesn’t fit the cookie cutter shape of the academic genre). Presenting your findings at a conference and having it go well. Getting good reviews for your books, and boldly refusing to read the bad ones. Writing poems out of the whole process and finding that they work.

This is the second of multiple segments in the interview with Jen Webb. In the next segment, Jen Webb discusses what she’s working on now and shares some advice.

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About Anthony Haynes

Director, Frontinus Ltd Communications Associate, FJWilson Talent Services

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