Starting tomorrow, I’m teaching a once-a-week creative writing class at William & Mary.

I’m not a tenure-track academic; by the time I’d finished my first graduate degree, I’d realized that I wanted to be a writer, not a full-time academic, and that for me the two were incompatible. I like to teach; I just don’t want to teach three or four classes per semester plus do governance, committee work, and advising. And going back for my Ph.D. confirmed in my own mind that my bent towards taking big subjects and making them accessible is not really something that academe is going to reward.

But I’ve been fortunate enough to teach as visiting faculty at William & Mary for the last fifteen years (for you non-academics, that means I can teach less than a full-time schedule and don’t have to do any of the committee work).

I haven’t taught at all for the last couple of semester; what with growing kids, farm duties, the History of the Whole World, Peace Hill Press, and travel, I haven’t been able to commit to it. But I can’t lose my faculty status because I have 427 books checked out of Swem and if my status expires I have to return them all. And give back my parking pass. And stop using all the online journals and databases.

Plus I like teaching.

So I’m doing “ENGL 368. Creative Writing: Fiction. An opportunity for students to develop their abilities in imaginative writing of fiction under supervision.” In case anyone’s interested, here’s the syllabus. I’ll try to post a few reflections on how the class goes. Every time I teach a creative writing class, I find one or two things that work, and six or eight that bomb horribly. I’ve done it often enough now to up my percentage (I hope).

ENG 368, Creative Writing
Wednesdays 5-7:20 PM, Tyler 216

1. Attendance
This class meets once per week. That means you get to skip a total of ONE class without penalty. Save it for when you’re actually sick; “one class without penalty” does not mean “one class at your personal discretion.” If you are sick more than once, be prepared to document it. And if you missed the first class, you’ve already had your non-penalty skip.

2. Lectures
We will spend the first part of every class (until about 6:20) discussing techniques for writing fiction and analyzing your fiction projects: working at the big-picture level. After a short break, we will spend the last forty-five minutes of each class concentrating on sentence-level technique.

3. Assignments
You will complete short readings in preparation for some lectures, but your primary assignment in this class is to write.
All work assigned in this class is to be done FOR this class. In other words, don’t recycle previous work. That’s a violation of the honor code. More importantly, recycling will deprive you of benefits you should be getting from the combination of lectures and assignments. There’s no possible way I can check up on you to see whether you’re recycling old papers, so be mature about this and police yourself.

4. Final
There is no final exam for this class. Your final project will be due on the day normally set aside for a Wednesday class final: 7 PM May 4. The final project will consist of 20,000 words of prose: either
a) the first section of a novel, or
b) a novella of at least 10,000 words plus an additional 10,000 words of short stories.

5. Grades
Your final grade will be based on your willingness to complete the assignments (50%), your class participation (25%), and your familiarity with the assigned readings (25%). I will provide you with a mid-semester evaluation on 3/3 during our individual consultations; we can discuss any difficulties at that point.

The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist: A Book for Writers, Teachers, Publishers, and Anyone Else Devoted to Fiction, second revised edition, by Thomas McCormick (Paul Dry Books, 2006)
The New Oxford Guide to Writing, by Thomas Kane (Oxford, 1994)
The Elements of Style Illustrated, by William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White (Penguin, 2007)

Jan. 20
Big picture: MS formattting; genre, form, and intended readership
Sentence level: Kane 111-118
Writing assignment: List of two to five “triggers”
Reading assignment: McCormack, pp. 93-105 (for “trigger” assignment)

Jan. 27
Big picture: Discussing triggers; generating an initial draft
Sentence level: Kane 119-128
Writing assignment: 3,000 words of draft for 2/3

Feb. 3
Big picture: Initial character work
Sentence level: Kane 129-139
Writing assignment: Complete three character worksheets for 2/10
1,000 additional words of draft for 2/10
Reading assignment: Prepare for 2/10 by reading McCormack, pp. 28-52

Feb. 10
Big picture: Analyzing character worksheets
Sentence level: Kane 140-146
Writing assignment: 3,000 additional words of draft for 2/17

Feb. 17
Big picture: Plot types
Sentence level: Kane 147-162
Writing assignment: Complete two plot graphs for 2/24
1,000 additional words of draft for 2/24

Feb. 24
Big picture: Character and plot interaction
Sentence level: Kane 163-174
Writing assignment: Rework character worksheets, add two more for 3/3

Mar. 3
Writing assignment: 5,000 additional words for 3/17
Note: those taking option 4(b) may begin drafting additional stories

Mar. 10

Mar. 17
Big picture: Roadblocks
Sentence level: Kane 190-202
Writing assignment: 5,000 additional words for 4/7

Mar. 24
Continue with 5,000 words assignment
Writing assignment: Continue with 5,000 additional words for 4/7
Reading assignment: Prepare for 3/31 by reading McCormack, pp. 89-92

Mar. 31
Big picture: Accidents
Sentence level: Kane 203-212
Writing assignment: Continue with 5,000 additional words for 4/7
Reading assignment: Prepare for 4/7 by reading McCormack, pp. 7-28

Apr. 7
Big picture: Initial workshopping
Sentence level: Kane 213-222
Writing assignment: Rewriting for 4/19

Apr. 14
Big picture: Workshopping, continued
Sentence level: Kane 223-233
Writing assignment: Rewriting for 4/19
Reading assignment: Prepare for 4/21 by reading McCormack, pp. 106-135


Apr. 21
Big picture: Prelibation
Sentence level: Kane 234-241
Writing assignment: Work on statement of prelibation for 4/28
Note: those taking option 4(b) will need more than one prelibation

Apr. 28
Prelibations due
Project summaries (be prepared to give the class an 8-10 minute take on your
progress up until this point; mention any outstanding difficulties)

Showing 6 comments
  • Polly

    Oh, how fun! I attended W&M (philosophy major) & took creative writing courses and I miss that setting! (Lots of Henry Hart for me–poetry!) A couple of years ago I was offered an adjunct position at a sort-of local college to me, but I couldn’t take it b/c as the semester began, I was going to be lugging around a 2 month old. Having never taught OR had a child before, there was no way I could juggle those balls. But I think it would be a lot of fun to be a non-tenure-track, every-so-often teacher.

    Your syllabus looks great. Have fun!! Say hello to the Sunken Gardens for me. I miss my alma mater.

  • Sahamamama

    427 books? Book hog.

    My other thought on this post: How are you going to read all those writing assignments? Sounds like a ton of work. I think I’d rather pay the library fines. Good luck!

  • Kate

    You know…I might just follow along with your syllabus. I am a mother of four, homeschooling gal who checks in on your site to make myself feel better. You have a much crazier life than me! This course looks wonderful!

  • Barbara Hall

    I’m going to give this syllabus to my 14 year old daughter who wants to write novels. We’ll see what happens. Have you ever considered teaching an on-line course?

  • Christina

    I would very much want to take that class, and I would be so very intimidated by it. It does look great.
    And you might have my husband beat at how many books someone has checked out of a given library! 🙂

  • Joe

    I loved your comment about th 427 books! Reminds me sooo much of my brother, who is also a non-tenure track research professor at Penn State. University libraries really spoil you. I miss them so much.

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