English Course Director Amy Watkins Copeland on Asking for Help, Feeding Creativity, and the Problem With Inspiration

English Course Director Amy Watkins-Copeland on Asking for Help, Feeding Creativity, and the Problem With Inspiration

English Composition Course Director Amy Watkins Copeland wants you to know that it’s okay to bother her. ”Your instructors are a resource,” she says. “My favorite part of the job is interacting with students one-on-one and working to help make their writing better.”

Composition is a required course, which means Amy and the rest of her department are faced with a unique challenge when developing curriculum. Because every student takes the class, its content needs to be applicable across degree programs. In response to this, Amy’s team has come up with a series of interdisciplinary assignments geared toward real world application. One assignment asks students to write a Kickstarter pitch. Another has them writing about a specific problem in their industry in order to come up with a workable solution. Students engage in a good amount of peer review in the form of discussion board posts and responses. And of course they receive lots of focused, detailed feedback from instructors, though it is on the student to ask for help if they find themselves struggling.

“Students are sometimes fearful to speak up and say, ‘I don’t get this.’ They’re afraid that they’re going to look foolish, or that they’re going to be bothering us. That’s really not true. We’re here for them.”

Currently, composition is only offered online, something that Amy views as a distinct advantage. Instead of placing an instructor in the distant position of lecturer, the online format fosters interaction and allows instructors to troubleshoot problems in real time.

All Full Sail faculty members bring industry experience to the table, and Amy is no exception.  In addition to a background in publishing and writing for advertising and marketing, she’s published poetry and non-fiction in numerous anthologies and magazines, including an essay appearing in Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She continues to submit work to publications in her spare time. “Seeing my name in print always feels good, but I still get rejection letters. That’s a fact of life,” she says. Instead of letting rejections get you down, she suggests using them as a case study. Ask yourself, what’s not working? Then adjust and submit again.

In February Amy released her first chapbook—a limited run, hand-bound book of poems—through Yellow Flag Press. The book is titled Milk & Water.  The publisher calls it, “a narrative of love and loss and the fears that drive every day life.”

Amy describes the book as very personal. “Most of the poems are about my mother and daughter and a lot of people I love.”

Balancing her own writing and her professional duties can be challenging, but Amy has a trick for striking a balance.

“It’s important to always feed your creative energy,” she says. This means letting herself approach art in a way that’s playful. In addition to writing, she’s also a visual artist—she paints and hand builds ceramics. These additional artistic outlets offer a creative freedom, one she can enjoy whether a project turns out or not.

Ultimately, she says, you have to find what works for you. It’s something she tells her students when they hit a wall in their own writing. Inspiration is a wonderful thing when it happens, but you can’t always count on it to strike when you need it.

“I tell my students this when we talk about writing process. The artist Chuck Close says, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.’ And that is true. Inspiration is what you live for as an artist, but that’s not always what you make your living on.”

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