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Christopher T. Ogden

Blog About Projects

25 Mar 2012
Make It New

Happened across Erasure, a post over at The Believer Logger, a new tumblr for The Believer. (Though, wait, I think the post was originally from Austin Kleon’s blog.) I couldn’t read it. The formatting was as messy and daunting as a briar patch. But I know how to click upon a link.

I found this, the syllabus for Jeannie Vanasco’s Creative Writing: Introduction to Fiction & Poetry (Spring 2012).

The course description begins with a quotation of Ezra Pound:

Make it new.

A quotation that, we soon learn, is not only “the motto of modernism” but also “a translation of Confucius who borrowed it from Emperor T’ang who inscribed on his bathtub ‘Every day make it new.’”

College writing courses deal extensively with an oft neglected (especially at the high school level), yet crucial, aspect of writing: rewriting. Vanasco’s course seems no different, but it goes a step further. Rather than just rewriting one’s own drafts, the students in this class are asked to rewrite finished works of established authors. And not only to imitate, but to blend and “erase” as well.

“This class is about generating new material.” Yet by making it new, the students are building upon material and traditions that were themselves built on older ideas. Ah, progress.

And so I am starting to draw connections between writing and design. Of course, I already knew that they were closely related. But reminders seldom hurt. Here are a few:

  • Design, as well as writing, is all about communication.
  • Iterate. Don’t forget to rework. (We’ll make progress constantly, but we’ll never make perfect.)
  • Build upon the old. Know your design history, but (and this is crucial) also learn about, through both study and experience, the greater world around you. Truly understanding what you are communicating will help you to understand how best to communicate.

Speaking of reminders, this is not the only writing/literature syllabus I’ve read in the past few days. Cumulatively, they’ve reawakened a realization of the breadth and depth of this world we live in. I really haven’t gone anywhere, and even where I’m standing, I’ve barely scratched the surface. And knowing all that I’ll never know is inspiring (not simply frustrating).

Also, a note to self: take a creative writing course before graduation, if at all possible.