resources for writing teachers


I have left the classroom with no plans to return but I want to support other educators. On these pages I have posted syllabi, handouts, and lessons I used as a writing teacher.

 

You are welcome to download and use them in your classroom, and of course modify them to suit the needs of your class or curriculum.

 

The materials are informed by my teaching philosophies. I explain my approach to creative writing here and my approach to composition here.


lessons from lessons: a teaching blog

I Told My Students Not to Kill any Characters

I wanted to end gruesome violence and teach empathy but it yielded mixed results.

Empathy is the key to writing fiction. Authors must be able to imagine the lives of other people, to stand in their shoes, to see the world as they see it, to feel what they feel, and then put those experiences on the page so that the reader will experience them too. This fundamental belief informs my teaching, and so I was dismayed at my student's murder and mayhem during my first semester teaching creative writing.

 

If I wanted them to understand the importance of empathy and to stop seeing people as plot problems that could be solved with murder and death, then I needed something radical. The next semester I added a new rule to the syllabus and on the first day of class told them they could write what ever they wanted, in any genre, with one caveat: they couldn't kill anyone.  Here's what happened.



The Stories I Like to Teach

Short story anthologies are usually uneven and disappointing, so I assembled my own collection.

When I sat down to craft my first creative writing course, I checked out dozens of contemporary short fiction anthologies, looking for the one that would fit the lessons I had in mind. I wasn't satisfied with any of them, and so  decided to make my own collection.


Anonymous, Descriptive Workshops are the Best

What readers like and dislike about a story is irrelevant to the writer.

Critiquing a story is an important skill for creative writing students and the success or failure of a workshop depends on how well they have mastered this skill. Students sometimes complain of bad workshop experiences because their classmates have either not learned how to give a good critique, did not participate in the workshop, or did not put honest effort into their critiques.

 

However, the format of the traditional Iowa workshop produces bad outcomes. The Iowa model — now replicated throughout the country — divides the session into two parts: what the readers liked and then what they didn't like, while the writer remains silent throughout the session. Not only is this unhelpful for the writer but it sucks for the readers too. There is a better way.



Prospective CW Students Should Submit a Portfolio

Many of my students admitted they had never read a novel. It showed in their work.

I wasn't an art major as an undergraduate, but I had always liked drawing and thought a art class would be fun. However, when I tried to register, I was denied. Art classes were only for art majors, and to become an art major I needed to submit a portfolio. At the time I was angry, but today I understand and appreciate my exclusion. At most universities, art classes are restricted in this way. Creative writing should do the same.



Graduate Literature Courses need flexibility

Literature students aren't the only ones who take literature classes.

MFA students are often required to take literature courses as part of their degree. Rhetoric & Composition students may also take literature courses if, for example, they are interested in the rhetoric of science and there is a lit course on nature writing, ecocriticism, et cetera. There is not, however, a similar requirement for literature students to take creative writing classes and they rarely take rhet-comp classes. As a result, the graduate literature classroom is the most academically diverse place in the English department, with fiction writers, poets, memoirists, rhetoricians, and literature students sitting together around the same table. In such an environment, if the semester is going to be positive and productive, professors must be flexible in their expectations and pedagogy.