Introduction to Creative Writing
Dr. Laura Bylenok
1201 William Street, #15
Office hours: MW 1pm-3pm, TR 11am-12pm, and by appointment
The Poet’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux (Norton 1997)
Imaginative Writing, Janet Burroway (4th Edition, Longman 2014)
Supplemental readings on Canvas
Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. –William Faulkner
This course, as an introduction to creative writing, will cover poetry and fiction. Accordingly, it is divided into two halves: the first half, taught by Professor Rochelle, focused on fiction, and the second half will focus on poetry. This division will allow you deep exploration within each of the two genres. Connections and crossovers between the genres will emerge, of course, as you become fluent with the forms, expectations, effects, and techniques of each genre.
This course begins with reading. Reading rigorously and reading ravenously, you will learn to read as writers. As we proceed, we will discuss poems from a writer’s perspective and focus on identifying how and why they are successful. In this half, we will focus on poetic techniques and elements including image, narrative, metaphor, voice, tone, speaker, and persona. We will also address sound work and effects of alliteration, assonance, consonance, as well as the effects of line breaks and white space. You will develop your own writing skills by applying the techniques and strategies learned from these texts, and through serious examination of your own and others’ work.
Goals and Objectives
Awareness. Develop an awareness of poetic techniques, and of the relation between form and content. This can be thought of as the relation between how something is said and what is said. Formal awareness (the how) is key in this course, and it includes an awareness of syntax, diction, image, symbol, metaphor, lyric and narrative progression, place, time, point of view, conflict, tension, rhythm, repetition, meter, rhyme, sound, and voice.
Strategy. Develop basic strategies for analyzing a poem from a writer’s perspective by formally breaking it down, identifying its elements, and then examining how the elements are working together to produce specific effects, and you will apply these strategies in written responses to published poems as well as your peers’ writing in the workshop.
Exercise. This is the then write part. Through journal entries, experiments, drafts, and revision, you will develop and demonstrate control over the elements in your own writing.
Payoff. The portfolio—your work to show off and to share, including revised poems and your own ars poetica.
Four poems. Assignments for these are on Canvas. You will revise these for the portfolio.
Six journal entries. These are exercises to help you flex and develop your poetry muscles. They are public entries, different than a private journal. You will post them to the class website, where they will mingle with others.
Workshop responses. For every poem being workshopped, for both full class and small group workshops, you will write a half-page letter addressed to the writer, offering your critical response to the work. These letters must include specific and detailed observations on particular lines, moments, and effects, as well as broader holistic comments.
Workshop intro. For each full class workshop poem, one person will be assigned the task of preparing a short introduction for the workshop. These introductions are designed to open discussion. They should include a brief analysis of formal and thematic elements, techniques, and effects, along with a few discussion questions posed for the class.
Reading attendance. You will attend at least one reading. You may attend readings by visiting writers through ELC or other readings on campus or in the community given by professional writers. In addition to readings given by visiting writers, you may attend the Thursday Poetry and Prose Readings. To receive credit for your reading attendance, on Canvas you must turn in a one-page response within one week of the reading attended. In your response, you should discuss the writer’s work directly, the presentation of the work, and/or your experience of the work, and you should address ideas that we have discussed in class.
Portfolio. This is the compilation of your work during this half of the semester, and it will include four revised poems, along with original drafts and journal entries, introduced and brought together by a critical ars poetica.
I may give quizzes at any time based on the assigned readings. There is no fixed schedule, but in general if conversation is lively and everyone is participating there will be fewer of these. Quizzes will form part of your class participation grade.
Class and Workshop Participation
The musts: You must arrive on time. You must be prepared for class. You must have the book that is under discussion with you, and I expect that you will have read attentively and are prepared to discuss. You must bring any supplementary PDFs, either as a printed copy or on an e-reader or device from which you can easily navigate the text (no phones).
You must bring workshop copies to the class period before your scheduled workshop. The day of workshop, you will submit two copies of your workshop responses –one hard copy for the writer who is being workshopped, and one copy on Canvas for me. Include your name, the name of the writer, and the title of the piece for reference.
I will determine your class and workshop participation grade according to your consistent and punctual attendance, preparedness, and active contribution to discussion. For class discussion to be useful, it is critical that every student participates—please don’t hold back because you feel that your idea may be unpopular or incorrect! Keep in mind the strength of any discussion comes from the diversity of observations within the group. Productive discussion depends on an open and respectful atmosphere in the classroom. I encourage lively conversation, and I also expect that students will maintain a level of attention and respect to each other at all times.
Grades will be comprised of the following components. Please note: I will not grade poems based on subjective quality or how ‘good’ it is. Instead, I will assess written assignments based on their demonstration of attention to form and theme, their clarity, their application of ideas and techniques discussed in class, and their fulfillment of assignment criteria. Please note, I will take points off for errors in spelling, grammar or syntax, general sloppiness, or perceived non-effort. Grades are non-negotiable. There are 100 possible points for this half of the semester, which will constitute 50% of your overall grade for the course:
40pts Creative work (poems, journal entries).
30pts Class participation (attendance, preparedness, engagement).
10pts Workshop (weekly workshop responses, introductions).
20pts Portfolio (four revised poems + drafts + ars poetica).
Some, though not all, of the business of this course will be conducted on Canvas. This is where you will find all supplemental readings. Grades and participation will be tracked here, and some assignments will be turned in through Canvas. Please have an email account connected to Canvas, and check it regularly.
Attendance is important for this course. Any absences and/or tardiness will affect your participation grade. Students are expected to attend and contribute to class activities and discussions. I recognize that illness or other factors may interfere with your ability to attend class—we are all human beings with complex lives. You will be allowed to miss as many as two class periods with no special additional penalty. I may ask for a note from a doctor, a family member’s obituary, or another form of documentation to verify your reason for having more than two absences. Otherwise, beyond two (2), each absence will result in a half-letter deduction of your final grade for this half. Don’t waste those two absences missing class for a bad reason; save them for a real emergency.
It is in your best interest to turn in all assignments on time. If you have a compelling reason for turning in an assignment late, I will work with you, but you need to contact me before it is due. For each day an assignment is late (including weekends), I will deduct a letter grade (or point equivalent) from its score. Late work will not be accepted after one week from the original due date unless you have made special arrangements with me. After one week, you will receive a zero for the assignment.
Failure to bring workshop copies to your fellow students the class period before your scheduled workshop will result in the cancellation of your workshop, which will seriously affect your workshop and participation grade.
Cell Phones & Computers
To minimize distraction, I ask that students turn off and put away all cell phones and laptops before class begins. Turn your cell phones on “silent” when you enter the classroom. Texting, etc., is absolutely unacceptable and extremely disrespectful to your classmates. If you are caught texting, you will be asked to leave. The ONLY exception to this policy is the use of an e-reader or other suitable device during discussion of supplemental PDFs.
Disclaimer on Printing
You will be doing a fair amount of printing this semester—you are responsible for printing out hard copies of your poems for the workshop, and you must print your workshop letters to give to your classmates. Please make sure you have access to a printer and plan appropriately before each class to arrive on time.
The Honor Code
In every aspect of the course and at all times, I expect you to adhere to the Honor Code of Mary Washington. While the spirit of this class is one of collaboration, all work you present to me must be your own and written during this semester. Taking someone else’s words, ideas, or concepts, and using them without citing the source, is plagiarism. So is using another student’s work, or part of his or her work, as your own. In the world of writing, this is a serious crime. It’s been my experience that those writers who plagiarize are those who feel overwhelmed by the assignment and use someone else’s work to stand in for their own out of desperation. If you get so frustrated with an assignment that you feel like your only option is to plagiarize, come see me. My role as a teacher is to help students, not punish them—use me as a resource to help you brainstorm and write. I am interested in reading your ideas, thoughts, and words, not those of someone else! Please don’t plagiarize.
Office of Disability Services
The Office of Disability Resources is available to assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your learning needs. Bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. All information will be treated confidentially. If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and need accommodations (note taking assistance, preferential seating, etc.), I will be happy to help you. The office will require appropriate documentation of disability. Their phone number is 540-654-1266.