Beyond the Creative Writing Class…What Now? What Next?


What can you do when your creative writing class ends? It’s often tough for writers to continue with their practice when a creative writing course ends. We realize what a luxury it is to have built-in deadlines and a captive audience to try to impress (or irritate, or enrage, etc.) with our work. These classes really can motivate us to do great work and increase the intensity we devote to the writing practice. Now, somewhat suddenly, you are on your own again as a writer, and it can be tempting to get lazy with your practice. Here are some ideas about things you can do to keep writing after the class is over:

Form or find a local or virtual writing group: Inquire with writers from class, the university community, or online about starting a writing group. You can set up a meeting schedule and place and figure out what you’d like to do (just share work and make deadlines, workshop pieces, encourage submission to publications, etc.).

Engage with a writing community by attending events and networking: Communities of writers exist everywhere and in every genre. Seek out events to attend and try to meet people in the community that interests you. For example, if you are into Slam or performance poetry, lots of Slams and Slam-related events happen around town. Make time to fit them into your schedule and participate in them, if possible.

Take another writing class or consider minoring or majoring in creative writing: After the English 227 Introduction to Creative Writing course, the creative writing offerings at ISU become genre-specific, meaning that you can take an intermediate-level course the focuses on poetry (247.01), prose fiction (247.02), or prose nonfiction (247.03).

Join the Euphemism editorial team: Euphemism is a great way to find out about the goings on of a literary publication. It can give you editorial experience for being the faculty moderator of a school literary magazine or yearbook, which can be a selling point when looking for teaching or publishing jobs. Euphemism staff members are also a supportive community of writers who often have workshops and writing sessions, etc. Getting on the Euphemism staff is a great co-curricular activity, especially if another creative writing class does not fit with your plan of study.

Determine what place writing has in your life: This class was designed to help you think outside the box and write in ways that do not come naturally. It is also meant to give you a taste of what the life of a practicing, professional (whatever that means) writer might be like. This lifestyle, however, is not for everyone. It is perfectly fine to have writing be a hobby or a therapeutic practice. Both of these ways of engaging with creative writing will keep you writing and may be a more practical way to have writing remain part of your life, rather than just something you did in that class way back when you were in college. Writing, like a trusty friend, is there when you need it.

Set goals and acknowledge milestones: Experts say that writing down short and long-term goals helps to actualize them, as they are then given a materiality through language that they don’t possess as a twinkle in your mind’s eye. What are your goals for your writing practice? To slam a poem at an open mic? To get published in Narrative or Creative Nonfiction or Poetry? To publish a book? Ten books? To win the National Book Award? No goal is too small or too outlandish to voice. Too, don’t forget to revel in how good it feels to write something that is, in your estimation, the best thing you’ve ever done or a piece that takes your writing in a new direction or up a notch. These moments, if you acknowledge them, are the best ones you can have as a writer, where so much of the rest of the reward system is external and, therefore, out of your control.

Stop writing: Oh my goodness, did I just write that? I realize that some students will never seek to write another creative piece after the course ends (although certain Texts from Last Night, Facebook statuses, Tumblr rants, and Twitter feeds would count, if you ask me). It’s OK to say creative writing isn’t for me, I guess. This is the part where I could launch into a tirade about how our society’s greatest war is against the imagination, and I could and probably will read the piece by Diane di Prima about that very topic, and I could say that even if you never write again, keep reading, and if you can’t read, then you should paint, or construct found-item collages, or sing, or play music, or dance, something to keep the imagination alive and flourishing within you.

Finally, it has been my pleasure to be in the vicinity of your creativities this semester. Don’t be strangers…


Strategies for Arranging Creative Works in a Sequence

While arrangement is one of the five canons of classical rhetorical training, it is often not studied at all in creative writing, although it is important to think about once you begin to assemble a body of work. Authors, book and journal editors, and anthologists all think about arrangement when creating larger works.

Considering works in relation to one another is much different from considering them as independent texts. How will this group of texts communicate with each other? What effects can a group of works have on readers?

While brainstorming, I came up with a number of ways that I think about arranging a body of work—a taxonomy of literary arrangements. I categorize the arrangement strategies as either pragmatic or aesthetic, although there may be other categories that can be separated out from these. Arrangement techniques function for collections of poems, stories, plays, or essays as well as anthologies, journals, and textbooks, etc.

I also want to add that I have come to create the taxonomy below after arranging many sequences of works—my own and those I’ve worked on as an editor—and I’m often more inclined to operate using a felt-sense method at first blush. Upon returning or reconsidering an arrangement, however, I can see what strategy might be in use, and I can then think of using it more consciously to create an effect or play up what I might have been working toward subconsciously.

Further, I like to see work physically when arranging it. I’m likely to lay the work out in a large room on the floor or tape it to the wall, so I glance at work, walk among it, grab it, put it down, rearrange it, etc. In short, there is a physicality to my arrangement process that does not work as well on screens, especially for longer sequences.


  • alphabetic: arrangement by name, typically the author’s
  • genre: in a multigenre work, things may be arranged by the genre classification
  • rank/cachet: by perceived importance
  • chronological: arranged by a strict date order
  • historical/periodical: grouping works together by literary period or school i.e. Victorian, Postmodern
  • geographic: by location
  • race
  • class
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • ability
  • age
  • mode/media: technological mode of production used to arrange i.e., oral traditions separated from printed separated from born digital, etc.
  • stylistic: the ways an author or authors use language



  • communicative: a grouping devised so that the pieces speak to one another (also: conversational, dialogic)
  • juxtapositional: a grouping strategy that puts unlike pieces together to create a jarring, surprising effect (also: dialectical arrangement)
  • rhetorical: uses pieces in a tactical way to make a larger argument or persuade
  • harmonic: uses pieces in unison like a chord blends notes on a piano or guitar, calls attention to how pieces work together for a pleasurable effect
  • dissonant: uses pieces in unresolved, indeterminate, or discordant ways to create an effect, often confusion, chaos, or displeasure
  • collagic: applies the tenets of collage or cut-up; often shows the rough edges and “tape” between pieces in an arrangement
  • project-driven: pieces are arranged to achieve a larger conceptual goal or to be greater than the sum of the parts
  • hinge/fulcrum/pendulum: pieces attuned specifically to a type of limit or edge move toward or away from the limit/edge (sometimes to-and-fro or even beyond) to create an effect from acknowledging the limit’s existence or boundary
  • compartmentalized: arrangement strategy that implicitly or explicitly groups works (typically like with like) to achieve an intended purpose
  • concentric: pieces are arranged fluidly or fixedly around a central core (concept, idea), exploring the core from a several perspectives or depths
  • narrative (master/meta): using small pieces to tell a larger story, think chapters in a book or sections in a longer poem or interrelated short stories or poems in a collection or journal
  • confrontational: an arrangement in which the pieces are at war with one another or the audience
  • hybrid: an arrangement based on blending, either of different genres or of different arrangement styles
  • interactive/hypertextual: an arrangement style that allows the audience freedom when interacting with the work (difficult to do in print medium although not impossible)
  • stir of echoes: a strategy that arranges echoes and chimes of certain language, images, or themes from earlier in the work at deliberately chosen moment to create a desired effect
  • melodic/symphonic: a musical grouping of composition intending to achieve beauty from the sounds of the work or to echo techniques from musical composition
  • rhapsodic: a strategy that moves back and forth among contrasting styles in integrated, but free-flowing and perhaps improvisational episodes
  • logical/mathematical: using classical logic or numerical formulas to dictate arrangements of works e.g., Fibonacci sequences, if/then, syllogisms, etc.
  • aleatoric (chance operations/indeterminate with respect to outcome/constraint-based) using a devised process of operations to dictate arrangement e.g. dice, I Ching hexagrams, coins, Tarot cards, etc.

What strategy would you add to the list?

Writing Prompt: Auctioning an Opener


Think of some of your favorite opening lines from books. Compose a line or sentence that you feel is a good opening line. Be prepared to talk about the following: Why is the line or sentence and opener and not more appropriate for another context? What genre (traditional or hybrid) do you envision for the line/sentence? What do you envision as the text for the line?

Next: Authors will auction their line. To bid on a line, you need to come up with an idea for the line/sentence. It can build on or stray from the author’s plan, but it needs to convince the author that you are a worthy buyer for their precious line. You also need to commit a number of lines/sentences (minimum ten) to the opening line/sentence you are bidding for. Only three bids max per piece are allowed before the author has to decide on a buyer to win the auction.

The exercise is collaborative and a great way to generate ideas if you’re feeling blocked.

For Later
Finish the piece you committed to during the auction and bring it to class on April 4.

This exercise is adapted from Michael Waters’s “Auction: First Lines (for a group)” in The Practice of Poetry, Behn & Twichell, eds.

Writing Prompt: Two Lines, Good Wisdom

Aphorisms, adages, tweets: the goal of these genres is to be quick, efficient, startling, and wise with a little bit of wit thrown in for good measure. Think of your favorite tweet or Text from Last Night.

Consider these poems:

The Old Man
by Charles Reznikoff

The fish has too many bones,
and the watermelon too many seeds.


Their Sex Life
by A. R. Ammons

One failure on
Top of another


He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you. —Nietzsche


Truth keeps all the benefits of shame & leaves what remains—shame’s injury—mired in duplicity. —Anonymous

For the prompt, write ten two line poems or two sentence aphorisms. Try to reveal wisdom you have gained in a short space. Consider the relationship between the lines or sentences. Will thoughts or images build? Will they be point-counterpoint? Will it be setup-delivery, like a joke?

I am a self-proclaimed over writer, so to work in concise thoughts is a treat. I find it useful to write in ways that are the opposite of your first inclination. My first inclination is to write quickly and pare it back at some later time.

Writing Prompt: Hybrid Instructional for a Crisis (after Diane di Prima)



Recently, a lot of my circle on Facebook were sharing Diane di Prima’s “Revolutionary Letter #14” from the book Revolutionary Letters, and it made me think about ways that writing and reading literature help us mitigate various kinds of crisis in our lives, often by providing an explicit or tacit guide for coping.

For today’s prompt, I’m going to read some of the explicitly instructional pieces from Revolutionary Letters, and then we’re going to compose our own hybrid instructionals for a crisis. In the prompt, the crisis you engage is up to you, but you must (a) write in a hybrid genre explored in Family Resemblance (lyric essay, epistolary (like di Prima), poetic memoir, prose poetry, performative, short-form nonfiction, flash fiction, or pictures made of words), (b) use at least one technique you highlighted in your craft and style journal, and (c) compose part of your instructional in second-person imperatives where the subject of your sentences is (you) understood.

Over the past decade and a half, I have observed crisis rhetoric applied to many areas of my instance, both on micro and macro levels and often overlapping: from 9/11 to the crisis in the humanities, from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina to the current crisis of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, from the ramifications of the financial crisis/Great Recession on my family to families being torn apart by the detention of undocumented immigrants. It sometimes seems that crisis mode is being hypernormalized, and it’s the normalization of crisis or the ability for crises to run parallel to what we might consider our normal, quotidian existence that this prompt engages. How do we cope? What wisdom and knowledge about crisis can we impart through our writing?

For Later
As with di Prima’s book, which she wrote off and on for over a decade, this mode lends itself to serialized writing. Perhaps you will find you want to explore the hybrid instructional from other vantage points or with constraints that differ from this prompt. Perhaps you will want to experiment with all the hybrid genres identified in Family Resemblance.


Writing Prompt: A Little Bird Told Me Some Writing Advice That Is Straight from the Horse’s Mouth, or The Cliché Problem, er Problematizing the Cliché

At the end of the day, clichés are as American as apple pie. My writing teachers used to tell me, “when stuck between a rock and a hard place, don’t beat around the bush, use clichés.” At the time I was wet behind the ears and waiting for the cows to come home when pigs fly, so I felt dumber than a box of rocks when I tried to get down to brass tacks. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Once upon a time, I couldn’t tell my ass from a hole in the ground, so I was glad to learn every gray cloud has a silver lining. Writing is feast or famine, so it’s best to just go with the flow.

I felt like a fish out of water when I first put pen to paper, but from humble beginnings come great things. I said to myself “don’t put the cart before the horse, go at a snail’s pace.” Even if your nutty as a fruitcake, there’s nothing new under the sun to write, especially if you’re stone cold sober.

I learned if I just keep on truckin’, I’d soon have more writing than you can shake a stick at. If you just take it one day at a time, eventually you’ll hit paydirt and write something that will make others green with envy. If not, shit happens.

So don’t just sit there looking as useless as tits on a bull; there’s no time like the present to try your hand at writing. Then again, maybe clichés are not my cup of tea, and perhaps I’ve only opened a can of worms by giving clichés a place in the sun. Anyhoo, I’ve never been too good at seeing the forest for the trees. Perhaps it’s best to just wash my hands of the whole thing, but you can bet your bottom dollar that every bump in the night can turn an armchair quarterback into an old pro when it comes to writing.


Write a ten-line or ten-sentence text. The text must include a proverb, adage, cliche or familiar phrase. You must change this expression in some way. In other words, it can’t be used in the traditional way, transparent or played straight. It must also include at least five of the following words:


You have ten minutes to complete this text.

You’ll have our undying admiration if you are able to use all ten words or writing two ten-line/ten-sentence texts.

Using a cliché means using an automatic expression, turn of phrase, or idiom that has entered the general consciousness to the point where it is banal and hackneyed. They are usually extremely common expressions and are generally derided as uncreative in creative writing courses. When readers encounter a cliché or an automatic expression, they do not have to do any work to unpack the phrase or think about its place in the text, which means the text will have less resonance.

When you find yourself using a cliché, it usually means you’ve run up against a barrier in your writing. In other words, you’ve hit a place where language fails to present estranged, novel, or unique ways of creating.

This exercise gives us a fruitful way to use clichés to our advantage by not playing them straight. The time constraints combined with the list force us to act on them rather than get caught up in thinking and associations.

For Later
When you revise your writing, try to identify and replace all instances of cliches or automatic writing, including obvious physical and emotional descriptions as well as idioms, with more compelling choices that reflect your emerging style as a writer.

Beyond sentence-level cliches, character types and plots can also be clichés, so try to also be mindful of writing worn-out characters and plots.


Adapted from Rita Dove’s “Ten-Minute Spill” in The Practice of Poetry, Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, eds.

Writing Prompt: Synesthesia



In writing, synesthesia is a technique that fuses color, sound taste, and smell together to present ideas, characters, or places. This technique makes ideas “more vivid and adds more layers of meaning to a text for the readers’ pleasure” that makes the piece of writing “more interesting and appealing” (


“Back to the region where the sun is silent…” – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

“With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz…” – Emily Dickinson, “Dying”

“All colors immediately fell an octave lower…”– Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles

“A creamy blur of succulent blue sounds smells like week-old strawberries dropped into a tin sieve as mother approaches in a halo of color, chatter, and perfume like thick golden butterscotch.” – Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

“The room’s carbonated silence is now hostile.” – David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.

Write a list of 6–10 descriptive sentences of your own using the technique of synesthesia.


Synesthesia is a device that stretches your brain to create descriptions beyond what one would normally expect, thus breaking away from automatic writing. Choosing how to blend two senses together allows you to practice making connections between two seemingly opposing ideas that create an entirely new texture to your words when combining them together.

For Later

As you continue to write, you may be tempted to use clichéd descriptions, like “white as snow” or “deep blue sea.” By substituting these with descriptions using synesthesia, you will be able to break away from automatic writing—words your readers have heard many times before—and more towards fresh and original writing that surprises your readers.