Creative Writing Teaching Grading Writing Assignments

I survived for a few years on the strength of my enthusiasm and my ability to make undergrads laugh.Syllabi like the one I used when I started have become the default approach for many professors, though they’re so limited in their effectiveness that any good work you get is an accident.Each assignment was paired with published stories that modeled these techniques, which forced me to open my reading list to a much broader range of authors and genres.With specific tasks to accomplish, the students turned in dramatically better work.

The standard syllabi are designed to be simple, so that anybody can be plugged in to the class at the last minute and run it smoothly.

The best you could hope for, most times, were glimmers of great ideas.

Novice writers tend to imitate what they see, rather than being driven by some innate idea of great art, so a poorly-conceived syllabus will lead to poorly-conceived stories. I’m not saying you can’t teach creative writing; I’m saying teach creative writing.

It was too late to salvage that course, but before the next semester, I trashed my syllabus and rewrote it from scratch.

I borrowed heavily from my friend Matthew Vollmer, a professor at Virginia Tech, and designed a course that required the completion of eight specific short exercises written within various formal and content-based constraints: a story in the collective first person, one about a monster, one in the form of instructions, one driven by a single magical element, and so on.

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  1. However, if you’ll forgive me bowdlerizing Ira Gershwin’s fabulous lyric, when it comes to the church, “they can’t take that away from me.” I couldn’t read the entire thing.