Investigative Creative Writing - Teaching and Practice - Mark Spitzer

Investigative Creative Writing - Teaching and Practice - Mark Spitzer

1. Teaching Students to Show Not Tell

Investigative Creative Writing - Teaching and Practice - Mark Spitzer

Mark Spitzer [+-]
University of Central Arkansas
Mark Spitzer is Associate Professor of Creative Writing in the Department of Film, Theatre, and Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of 18 books, ranging from memoirs to novels to literary translations and collections of poetry. He is the editor of the award-winning Toad Suck Review (, a professor of creative writing, an authority on the notorious gar fish (See River Monsters, alligator gar episode), and the world expert on the poetry of Jean Genet. Other recent titles include the poetry collection, Inflammatosis: Polemic Poetry, Incendiary Prose, and Other Extremes of Love and War (Six Gallery Press, 2018); the young adult and children’s literature title, The Crabby Old Gar (Subversive Muse Press, 2018); the novel, Viva Arletty! Our Lady of the Egrets (Six Gallery Press, 2017); the nonfiction work, Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West (University of Nebraska Press, 2017); the literary translation The Genet Translations: Poetry and Posthumous Plays (Polemic Press, 2015), and the memoir, After the Octopus (Black Mountain Press, 2014).


First published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, this chapter builds on an observation by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud to introduce a revolutionary teaching technique that I’ve been practicing for fifteen years. To teach students to show not tell, I assign the task of writing “portraits” that rely on detail provided through the five senses, metaphor and simile, and “wordular” inventions. The purpose of these exercises is to wean students from their reliance on vague and often meaningless words like “beautiful” and “cool” and to substitute information which provokes images and associations that automatically translate context. With references to William Blake, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Newton, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, I explain how creativity can be measured through the process I advocate, which is also extremely useful in writing college papers and other texts.

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Spitzer, Mark. 1. Teaching Students to Show Not Tell. Investigative Creative Writing - Teaching and Practice. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 21-25 Jan 2020. ISBN 9781781797181. Date accessed: 07 Aug 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.34890. Jan 2020

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