Introduction to Creative Writing
English 227 Section 002
Writing the Genres and Exploring Hybridity
Instructor: Steve Halle
Associate Instructor: Andrea Berns
Office: Williams Hall Annex 106
Email: email@example.com (best contact method)
Office Hours: M–F By Appointment
Classroom Location: Stevenson 410
This section of Introduction to Creative Writing uses a genre studies and progressive approach to develop writing techniques for the three genres emphasized in creative writing classes here at Illinois State University: prose fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. As a community of writers, we will learn a great deal about each other by not only writing but also by describing how our writing works and what it does through various methods centering on close examination of language.
In addition to this, you will learn about the field of creative writing as an academic discipline and develop other valuable skills contemporary writers use to turn the habit and enjoyment of creative writing into a professional practice including generating new work, critical reading and written response, understanding elements of craft and style for creative writing, considering the online presence of writers, performing work on the page and aloud, arranging and delivering work for publication, and sharing responses to a variety of texts.
Successful writers in any genre are also voracious readers. To this end, the class will be examining a popular trend in contemporary literature, hybrid genre writing, as a means of connecting to the field as a whole by closely studying one particular area and connecting what we learn to what we already know.
COURSE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
- Develop and maintain a habitual and sustainable writing practice that fits with your writing goals
- Learn and develop a shared critical vocabulary for describing how each genre works based on shared criteria we recognize as valuable
- Respond to student writing in workshops
- Create a satisfying answer for the questions: What is creative writing? How are genres connected? How are genres distinct? What are hybrid genres? What is the role of the writer in contemporary society? Why do we read creative writing?
- Learn and explore craft and style issues pertinent to your writing practice and development through writing activities, discussions, workshops, and journaling
- Read and learn about hybrid genres
- Participate in creative writing community activities like attending readings, writing book reviews, and participating in online conversations
- Read and report on a contemporary poetry journal for a class roundtable discussion
- Submit work for publication in Euphemism, the literary publication of ISU, and one publication outside the college community
- Write a book review for one of the course texts and publish it on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com
- Create a self-publishing, DIY chapbook of your original writing
- Arrange and participate in an end-of-semester class reading and potluck meal
- A composition book, journal, or Moleskine (something special or unusual is preferred, not just a run-of-the-mill spiral). Your special notebook should be at least one hundred pages, and you will use it as an idea book for your creative writing, ingenious thoughts, clippings, quotations, doodles, and jottings, as well as for your dialectical craft and style journal.
- A writing implement.
- Sulak, Marcela and Jacquline Kosolov. Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Rose Metal Press, 2015.
- You will need to purchase a book (and possibly two, depending on what you choose to do) from a recommended small press for the book review. A list will be provided with an assignment sheet for the project.
- You may want to purchase special materials to make your chapbook at the end of the semester.
WHAT I VALUE AND EXPECT
- excellence in all you do (you choose to be here, choose to give your best effort)
- trust in and respect for yourself and each other
- being in class (physically, mentally and spiritually)
- being prepared (reading texts to the point where you can discuss them, critique them, or raise insightful questions about them, making deadlines, being on time)
- habitual practice and effort
- specificity and attention to detail
- curiosity and inquisitiveness
- critical inquiry and analysis
- play, fun, risk-taking, mess-making, experimenting
- keeping an open mind
- plasticity and self-advocacy (bending the class to get what you want)
Let me begin this section by saying this class will be labor intensive and challenging. Creative writing has developed a reputation of being an easy class or easy A, but this class will not be the kind that extends that unflattering myth. It will save you a great deal of stress and headaches if you start working hard at this class from the beginning. When students do not succeed in creative writing courses, it is not because they lack talent or are bad writers but because they do not take the course or its objectives seriously. You do not have to take a class in creative writing in order to write, but being here will save you time by creating a more intense and rigorous environment than you are likely to be able to create for yourself on your own. Your very presence in the class signals to me that you are ready to begin taking your writing more seriously.
WRITING PRACTICE AND WRITING PROMPTS
Each week on Tuesday and Thursday, I will post writing prompts in a particular category (invention, revision, arrangement, etc.), possibly for a specific genre or to emphasize a particular technique or skill. These writing assignments and exercises are meant to make you think and work outside of your normal practice in order to develop pieces, skills, or techniques that you might not otherwise be able to generate working on your own.
During the semester, you will be responsible for completing at least one of the posted writing prompts from each week of the course. Writing prompts are located on the class blog and will be tagged according to category. We will have some time in class to work on these, but you will likely have to finish the writing outside of class time in your special notebook. Some of the prompts will be open (you are encouraged to write on your own in addition to the prompts).
Writing prompts will not be evaluated for content or aesthetics but by how much writing you can generate and based on evidence that you have been writing consistently during the entire semester. The prompts are meant to encourage you expand and intensify your writing practice. Writers committed to their practice are no different than musicians or athletes and must practice habitually to improve. While not every exercise or prompt has to turn into a finished piece of writing that makes your chapbook, the more writing you do during the semester, the better the chances that you will come up with pieces of quality.
You will be given the option on how you want to deliver writing prompts for me to read. You can choose to turn in hard copies as you go along, at midterm and the end of the semester, or you can choose to go paperless by posting writing prompts online. You will be able to set up your delivery method in your personal writer’s inventory that you complete during the first week.
READINGS AND YOUR CRAFT & STYLE JOURNAL
Between the books assigned for this class, reading peers’ writing for workshops, and other writing or media you encounter, you will be reading a ton of different writing this semester. What sticks with you? What do you notice? How does a piece of writing work? What can you learn about writing as a reader?
Through our workshops and class discussions of selected readings, you will be exposed to general and particular craft concepts for the genre we are focusing on, including things like lineation, economy, tone, mood, character development, using literary devices, plot structure, dialogue, and theme among many others. Craft includes the strategies, tactics, styles, and tricks of the trade that you use to build what you can accomplish in your writing.
Keeping a craft and style journal is a way for you to practice noticing and writing cogently about craft issues that you encounter through your reading. I find that journaling about craft works best if you begin by copying a specific passage from a text on the left-hand (verso) page of your notebook and describe specifically what the writer is doing, how it affects you, and how you might be able to apply similar techniques to new or existing pieces of your own on the right-hand (recto) side).
Entries in your craft and style journal do not have to be long (100-200 words is ideal), but you should try to notice and write about something for every reading assignment you have in this class.
Sometimes writing classrooms can become islands, forgetting that the rest of the creative writing community exists. One way to avoid this is to investigate a contemporary literary journal and share your findings with the class. We will have a roundtable discussion towards the end of the semester where you will share research about a journal of your choosing that students from our class might consider submitting work to for publication.
For this assignment, you must read a recent copy of the journal you select in its entirety. You will then report to the class what kind of work the publication accepts, what genre(s) it focuses on, any university or other affiliations the journal has, any information you can gather about the editor or genre editors, information about the web site, how submissions are handled, etc. Once you have gathered this information, create a post on your blog or a handout with links to the journal’s web page and prepare a brief overview of the journal for class. By the time we have our roundtable, you will have read everyone’s work. Feel free to make suggestions if a piece you read in class might be appropriate for the journal you research.
During the semester, we will learn strategies and tips for submitting writing for publication in literary journals. You are required to submit your work to two journals, Euphemism and one publication not affiliated with ISU. You will learn resources for finding and researching journals. You will need to provide proof that you submitted your work by either blind carbon copying me on an email submission, forwarding a confirmation email from a journal, or giving me the stamped envelope for a submission that I will mail on your behalf.
Writing book reviews demonstrates the ability to read critically as creative writers and the ability to incorporate and expose criteria we value in creative writing as individuals, a group, and a field. Reviews force us to be able to describe, situate, praise, and critique a work, as well as consider its potential audience, originality, and purpose, among other things.
For this class, you will write either one 600-1000 word review or two 250–500 word microreviews of a small press book (or two). When you finish your book review, turn it in, and I will offer feedback about your review. Next, you should publish the review in a journal, in Euphemism’s “Yelling about Books,” or on Amazon.com, or Goodreads. You may choose to try to publish your review in a professional publication. If you plan to publish in a journal, inquire with me about possible publications to which you might submit the review.
MEMORIZATION AND EMBODIMENT PROJECT
During the semester, you must commit a work of literature to memory. The work must be at least fourteen lines long. You may choose to share the work you’ve committed to memory by reciting the work aloud, writing it out longhand, or typing the work live on a device while being observed. If you write or type the work, punctuation must be included.
The final chapbook will be turned in on the last class in the form of a handmade chapbook. You will need to prepare at least three copies of your chapbook (one for me to keep, one for yourself, and one to give to swap with a classmate). It will consist of 16-32 pages of work from the semester that you feel excited about. You should also pay attention to arrangement of the texts in order to make different works engage with one another.
The chapbook should be accompanied by a cover letter 600-800 words in length describing the choices you made in writing and arranging the texts, designing the chapbook, and other things you think I may want to know as a reader. (I will respond to your chapbook with end comments by your request only. Please make requests via email.) Please also include the journal you did your writing in (it should be about full) or a link to a blog or copy of zipped file if you write on the computer. All this can be included in a dossier-type file folder with your name marked clearly on it.
PERSONAL WRITING CONSULTATIONS
During February, we will be devoting class time to personal writing consultations. I believe that one-on-one consultations can provide specific and customized feedback and interaction related more closely to your work and interests as a writer, as well as a chance to meet without either of us having to perform the role of teacher or student in the classroom space. It is also important to meet and talk about creative-writing-related topics outside the classroom space. Each consultation should be approximately 15 minutes. You will need to submit a completed writing prompt for review at least one week before your scheduled consultation.
Failure to complete your personal with me during the semester will cause you to lose a significant portion of your final participation grade for the course (10%).
For Writers: Everyone in class is required to have their work discussed by the class in a full-group workshop once. The workshop schedule will be posted on the blog. In the class before your work is to be discussed, you will be required to bring and distribute a typed, hard copy of your work (1500 words maximum) for each person in the class. Please print your work ahead of time and be organized with enough copies for everyone (20 copies). There will be a lot of paper changing hands in this class.
I will also need a link to or copy of an electronic version of the piece you are workshopping. This copy will be used to display the work on the LCD projector during workshop.
If you fail to deliver your work for workshop on the class before your work is discussed, you will forfeit your chance to be workshopped and lose a significant portion of your final participation grade (10%).
For Responders: You will be required to respond in writing to other writers’ work. Please mark up the text itself with specific marginal notes, explanations, etc., and type at least one page double spaced describing what you think the work is doing and your general response and comments on the work. Staple your typed, signed response to the original, marked-up work. You will then turn in your response to me, and I will assign a rating of check plus (100%), check (85%), or check minus (70%). I will then give it to the author on the following class date after I’ve checked your response. Make sure your name is on your sheet of comments.
If you fail to turn work in on the day of the workshop, you can receive no higher than a check minus. Work that is not turned in will be graded zero.
You all, the students, are the engines that drive this class. Be prepared and open to offering your voice in all phases of this class: as a writer, critic, peer, friend, etc. The substance of our discussions determines the content of the class. Take ownership of your education by participating in every class.
Assessment and Grades
Note: Assessment and grades are two different, although related, concepts. Whereas assessment is the over-arching field that includes all the different work we do, students and instructor, to evaluate different performances during a course, grades refer only to the fivefold letter system used here at Illinois State University.
I don’t believe in assigning a letter grade directly to creative work because it limits your ability to follow your instincts and curiosity as a writer by forcing you to write work you think I will like.
We are, however, in an institution that wants me to give a grade for this class. Therefore, completing the following objectives with gusto will determine your grade:
Community Participation Grade (25%): includes completing the writer’s inventory, participation in workshop, workshop responses, discussion, performances, memorization and embodiment assignment, meeting deadlines, personal consultation sessions, and being prepared for class, as well as other assignments and tasks as needed.
Notebook and Writing Prompts (20%): Your special notebook should be at least 100 pages. You should try to fill fifty (50) pages (the first half of the notebook) with creative work, including prompts from class, and you will get 2 percentage points per every page your write.
Craft & Style Journal (10%): The second half of the special notebook should be devoted to your craft and style notebook (see above). You should try to complete 25 entries, and you will get four percentage points per entry
Book Review (10%): Assignment sheet forthcoming
Journal Roundtable Presentation (10%): Assignment sheet forthcoming
Final Chapbook and Cover Letter (25%): Assignment sheet forthcoming
All deadlines must be met on time to pass the course.
During the semester, there will be three to five opportunities to receive extra credit by attending creative writing events, such as readings. Each event you attend will earn you 1% toward your overall grade for the course, e.g., if you have a 90% and attend one extra credit event, your final grade for the course will be 91%. I will give you advance notice of these opportunities.
B —Good (90-81%)
C —Satisfactory (80-71%)
D— Poor, But Passing (70-61%)
F —Failing (60% or below )—Assigned to students who are (1) enrolled in a
course all semester but fail to earn a passing grade, or
who (2) stop attending class without officially withdrawing.
The instructor reserves the right to assign the final grade.
Course Policies & Miscellany
It detracts from the spirit of a writing workshop if you miss class. Of the twenty-six scheduled class meetings, you may miss one class with no questions asked. Three or more missed classes will result in a lowered final grade, usually by ½ letter grade per missed class. Note: If you miss the day before your workshop when you are to distribute work or the workshop, it will affect your grade unless you have documented evidence of an excused absence. Illnesses and emergencies are considered excused absences only if an email is sent or further documentation provided as necessary; you should not come to class if you have a contagious illness. Please communicate extended absences due to illness or emergency to me at your earliest convenience. The instructor reserves the right to determine what constitutes an excused absence.
During each class, you will be asked to toggle between different activities including, but not limited to, class discussion, small-group discussion, project invention, research, drafting, workshops, lectures, revision and other writing and reading assignments. Make sure you are able to focus on the task at hand for the full amount of time allotted by the instructor.
FREE SPEECH & STUDENT RESPECT
Academics often focus on objects, texts, opinions, and events which may evoke strong opinions and emotions in scholars at all levels. You might find some of the texts and topics we study to be controversial. Though I will try not to purposely offend anyone, there may indeed be moments in this class where you are shocked, offended, or have your worldview challenged.
There will be differences of opinion between you and the text, your classmates, your groupmates, and within the class as a whole. Please be prepared for such disagreements and remember:
- someone will eventually disagree with you, so please treat those you disagree with as you would like to be treated were the roles reversed
- that you are arguing positions, not people, so try not to take this personally
- one of the ultimate goals of academic activity is to account for a multitude of perspectives
- No opinion or worldview is really worth having if you are afraid to hold it to scrutiny, so try to enjoy the opportunity to examine your beliefs
You can (and should) feel free to believe whatever you want. You are required, however, to make every available effort to back up, justify, and support any claim you make with specific information. In academics, we tend to take seriously those positions that are well thought out but easily dismiss rash opinions that are unsupported.
In a creative writing workshop, especially, it is important to create a middle space between politely praising work and finding flaws for the sake of finding flaws. In the middle space, we can describe what a text does and state our informed analysis, with a commitment to making the writer more effective and more aware of what the work is doing.
Lastly, in this class I fully encourage and support sensational, excessive, shocking, dirty, grotesque, burlesque, carnivalesque, sexual, tasteless, pop-culture, humorous, political, lowbrow, toilet humor, kitschy work, but there is a fine line between what is entailed in these works of literature and gratuitous writing, pornography, hate speech, or other work that is created with the sole purpose of causing harm. I expect you to use discretion in regard to this matter.
If you are offended or feel that another student’s work goes too far or offends you, it is important to me that you feel comfortable and safe enough to express your views in the moment. When doing this, please use “I” statements to express your views and emotions (e.g. “I feel uncomfortable with your graphic depiction of child abuse on page three.” as opposed to accusatory or inflammatory statements (e.g. “You are a bad person for writing this”). Creative writing is meant to spur dialogue and not reinforce unproductive silence when controversial or sensitive subjects are encountered.
ACCESS AND ACCOMMODATIONS POLICY
Any student needing to arrange a reasonable accommodation service should contact Student Access and Accommodation Services in 350 Fell Hall: 309-438-5853 (voice) or 309-438-8620 (TDD) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Life at college can get very complicated. Students sometimes feel overwhelmed, lost, experience anxiety or depression, struggle with relationship difficulties or diminished self-esteem. However, many of these issues can be effectively addressed with a little help. Student Counseling Services (SCS) helps students cope with difficult emotions and life stressors. Student Counseling Services is staffed by experienced, professional psychologists and counselors, who are attuned to the needs of college students. The services are FREE and completely confidential. Find out more at Counseling.IllinoisState.edu or by calling (309) 438-3655.
CONTACTING THE INSTRUCTOR OUTSIDE OF CLASS
Please feel free to contact me by phone, email, or during office hours/by appointment as you see fit. It is important to me to be approachable. Be mindful, however, this class is not the sum total of my life (and it shouldn’t be yours, either). I am also a husband, Publications Unit codirector, publisher, editor, poet, friend, etc. and need to spend time in those roles. If you wish to contact me, please have a specific query or purpose for doing so.
**This document is in progress, and I reserve the right to alter the content as needs arise. If any changes are made, you will be notified.**