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Meet the Teaching Artist: Taylor Swift as Craft with Laura Dzubay

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: Taylor Swift as Craft with Laura Dzubay

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Calling all aspiring writers and Taylor Swift fans! Get ready to embark on a truly unique and exhilarating creative journey with teaching artist Laura Dzubay.

In her upcoming course, Taylor Swift as Craft: A 6-Week Fiction Workshop, Laura seamlessly blends the enchanting world of storytelling with the captivating lyrics of Taylor Swift.

This workshop is designed to explore the fundamental elements of creative writing, focusing on fiction, while using Taylor Swift's music as a guidepost for discussing key concepts like characterization, setting, perspective, conflict, and more. Whether you're a die-hard Swiftie or simply curious about the magic behind her music, Laura welcomes writers of all backgrounds to join in this invigorating creative space.

Uncover the secrets of Taylor Swift's narrative tools, delve into her artistic inspirations, and discover how to strike the perfect balance between personal details and universal themes in your own stories.

Hi, Laura. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

Hi! I’m a writer and teacher from the Midwest, and I love writing speculative short stories and personal essays. My writing has won the AWP Intro Prize and appeared in Mid-American Review, Blue Earth Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere; I’ve also written a lot about music, and wrote album reviews for several years for Consequence and The Michigan Daily. I also love hiking and playing guitar, and last year completed a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

I’ve used music a lot before in teaching creative writing, usually through individual songs from a variety of artists. At one point, while thinking about a Taylor Swift song I wanted to teach a lesson on (“Back to December”!), I realized it could be really fun to arrange a whole class around her music, while also weaving in some discussion of her relationship to making art, the role of rejection, and what we can learn in general from the artists whose work inspires and excites us. I love coming together and learning through common excitement, and so many other people are excited about her music—and specifically the writing component of it—that I thought using her work as a focus could be a great way to do this in a creative writing workshop.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

I’ve broken this course down into key creative writing concepts. Each week will be spent going in depth on an element of writing: physical detail and observation, character building and development, structure, conflict, perspective, and using the revision process to look for the right “ending.” The classes will involve a combination of generative writing time through guided exercises, open discussion and brainstorming in relation to the week’s theme, and creative analysis of storytelling in specific Taylor Swift songs. We’ll also have opportunities to share our work with one another. I’m most excited for the discussion questions I’ve come up with, and the chance to hear other people share what it is they love about the things they love—whether that’s Taylor Swift or some part of the writing process!

What was your first literary crush?

In middle school, I read Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy and I fell really deeply in love with the humor and the descriptions! I read those books more times than I can count, and I still remember all the characters in so much detail.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, which I think was my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. Kincaid does such a deft job of handling emotion, and I found myself moved at several parts in a way that really took me by surprise. I also read and loved Sarah DeLappe’s play The Wolves recently, and I’ve just started on Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, which has really immersed me so far.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

I don’t know that I do always choose intentionally. I usually have way too many ideas swirling around at once. The things that I finish are the things that I’m afraid I’m going to forget, so I try to write down what I’m feeling, as close as I can in time to the actual experience of feeling it—and then, before I know it, I’ve often written enough that I may as well try and finish it. I think the ideas that might feel difficult or scary are also often the ones I feel most compelled to circle back to, because they’re the areas where there’s most likely to be a genuine discovery waiting.

Where do you find inspiration?

Walks have been my big source of inspiration recently! I get a lot of anxious energy when I’m working on things inside for long periods of time, and I wind up checking my phone a lot and letting my mind wander into the least productive places. I love going for runs and walks as a way to shake my mind loose and see what else is going on in the day, and I’ll often wind up jotting down thoughts for later in my notes app. I also love cooking, playing music and singing, and long, in-depth conversations with friends.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

When I was in college, I asked a writer for his advice after a reading; he said that although it might sound counterintuitive, I shouldn’t think too much about writing or put myself under too much pressure. He said his best writing advice would just be to live, and that if I was ever choosing on a given night between doing something with friends and staying home and writing, I should go out and spend time with other people and make memories. Otherwise I'd have fewer things to write about anyway, and writing should come from real feelings and experiences, and a sense of really having something to say. This has really stuck with me, because it reminds me that although I love writing and am proud and excited to do it, it should still ultimately be in service of the larger task of being the sort of human I really want to be. (And remembering this, I think, does actually make me a better writer! As well as probably a better person.)

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

This isn’t a book, but I return really often to Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” The craft perspective I love here is the idea that there’s real significance behind the types of stories and narrative elements we choose to privilege; I love how Le Guin prompts the reader to think beyond stereotypical heroism and action, and to consider the possibility of wider, more expansive worlds and stories. This essay is the craft-related text that has stuck with me the most and that I learn the most from revisiting.

Learn more about working with Laura:

You can learn more about Laura's upcoming workshop Taylor Swift as Craft: A 6-Week Fiction Workshop and sign up now!

Don't miss out on this exciting opportunity to learn, grow, and connect with fellow writers as you dive into the world of Taylor Swift's craft.

Instructor Laura Dzubay holds degrees from the University of Michigan and Indiana University, where she won the AWP Intro Prize and served as fiction editor for Indiana Review. Her stories and essays are published or forthcoming in Electric Literature, Blue Earth Review, Hobart, Mid-American Review, and the upcoming anthology A Flame Called Indiana: An Anthology of Contemporary Hoosier Writing (IU Press 2023).

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