Creative Writing Institute 2013: Writing Past the Personal

By Kate Broderick, MSc Global Strategic Communication ’13


This was my second year participating in the Creative Writing Institute at Florida Tech. The event occurs annually and is hosted by the Humanities and Communication Department. Students work closely with published authors to fine-tune their writing skills. I chose to take “Writing Past the Personal,” with Dr. Dustin Michael, an incredibly engaging speaker and fellow Whovian.

The class examined the structure of the essay, breaking it down beyond the usual five-paragraph format, in what is called Creative Non-Fiction. Creative Non-Fiction is based off true events, but includes the author as part of the narrative. This differs from usual non-fiction, where the author remains objective and is not included in the writing (think about your typical newspaper article).

On the second day of class at the Creative Writing Institute, we were given a prompt to write a narrative story about ourselves, based upon a list, i.e. “places I have slept,” “places I have traveled to,” “things I have lost,” “items in your jewelry box.” My house was broken into a little over a month ago, so I suppose it was inescapable that I would be drawn to the jewelry-box prompt. I didn’t exactly stick to the prompt as intended…the “list” element was almost non-existent in my response. You can judge for yourself:


Lessons from my Grandmother

The house was noisy, but I was not a part of the clamor and clatter. My grandparents’ house—usually four levels of uncharted exploration—was alive with the shouts of my brother and cousins pretending to be pirates. All possibilities of adventure for me had been thwarted by the ill-timed machinations of my old nemesis: strep throat. My grandmother, a diminutive woman with thunderous footsteps, sat at the edge of my bed, gently stroking my forehead. I’ve lost the exact reason why to time—perhaps it was the tone of her voice, or the change in her movements—but something about the atmosphere impressed upon me through my feverish state the seriousness of the moment. Something was about to happen.

I was not disappointed. Pulling my clammy body from its pillowed-cocoon, my grandmother wrapped her arm around me. “Katie Ann,” she called me, “this is something I want you to keep.” She tucked into my chubby little fingers a medallion the size of a pocket watch. A dulled gold color, I remember the medallion somehow seemed soft to the touch. A majestic eagle with a cruel beak was impressed on the front. My clumsy hands turned the sliver of metal over, revealing an alphabet utterly foreign to me. The only part of the inscription I could year was the year: 1888.

“This is from the Old Country,” my grandmother confided.

I nodded, knowingly, although it wasn’t until years later that I learned that the Old Country meant Russia.

With the unraveling of years, I would discover the medallion had been awarded to my great-great-grandfather from his cousin, the Czar. My entire Russian branch of the family tree would be massacred in the revolution—lost to a vision of unattainable dreams by a desperate people. My great-grandmother was the only one to escape.

I don’t know how she felt, having abandoned her friends, her family, her country. Bringing the few mementos she could carry on her person, she had been forced to sell most for safe passage out of the war-torn country.

Although I didn’t understand the significance of the present at the time, I knew my grandmother had given me an important piece of her personal legacy.


The house was nosy, but I was not a part of the clamor and clatter. I stood a part, barefoot, in the front yard, talking to two detectives while the CSI team coated my house with grey dust.

The broken fragments of the patio door showed how the burglars had entered. Now the detectives were trying to determine what had been stolen.

Well, I had an easy answer for that: everything. The detectives said how lucky it was that no one had been killed. A five-minute difference in timing, and this would be a very different story. As I stood, barefoot, in my front yard, the vibrant green of the grass drawing a sharp contrast with my pale skin, I finally understood how my great-grandmother must have felt, if only a little. Losing my inheritance, the medallion, my identity…the little piece of metal so lovingly given to me almost twenty years ago.

Just things. I know my great-grandmother will understand why I am not completely devastated by the lost, by having to start over.  I still have my family. My great-grandmother would have gladly traded the tiny piece of metal for that.


Here is your own writing challenge: try to mirror the prompt in Dustin’s class. Think about places you have visited, or things you have lost, and write for ten minutes. You will be surprised at the places your writing takes you to!

It is always inspiring and encouraging to attend the Creative Writing Institute. From one writer to another, I can tell you that it pushes your work to another level. You will reconsider aspects of writing you probably haven’t thought of before. I eagerly await the Creative Writing Institute next year!

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