English 2250 Syllabus
Process and Imaginative Writing - Last Updated
August 22, 2017
I'm Lee Ann Mortensen and I have an MFA terminal degree in Creative Writing from the University of Utah. Though I have written in a variety of genres, I primarily focus on neo-postmodern, sort of minimalist prose/fiction that focuses on marginalized voices in the West. Click here to read my sometimes upsetting, angry, funny, four-letter-word work (that means it isn't everything for everyone). I've been published in journals like Ploughshares, River Styx and Prism International.
OFFICE: Liberal Arts room CB410d--E.mail is the best way to get ahold of me during the school year.
HOURS: I'm usually in my office CB410d MW 4-5pm, 8:30pm-9:30pm, or by appointment; often I'm in our classroom CB413 M & W from 1pm to 3:50pm, and 5pm to to 8:25pm where you can catch me between classes. Be sure to also take advantage of consultation days--see the Web Calendar.
PHONE: 801-863-8785 (currently isn't working)
Creativity means so many things to so many different people.
Here's my take on it--a creative piece of writing is a twisted, twisting, breathing, surprising, obsessive, never clichéd piece of art. The problem, though, is how you manage to bring these things together in an internally logical way, and still be interesting (interesting to whom?).
What do you think is "surprising" and "obsessive" (or twisted) about the following flash fiction by Gregory Burnham? Or Raymond Carver's minimalism?
What about the complex neo-formalism of Maxine Kumin? Or the minimalist humor of William Carlos Williams?
And then there's satirical theater that is often very surprising (and offensive) to many--see Christopher Durang's Sister Mary Ignatious Explains it All For You (an excerpt). Or the classic, Waiting for Godot.
I don't find Hallmark cards surprising or damaging enough to be artistically satisfying--greeting cards are inventive at times, and are often skilled and amusing as well as useful (they apologize, beg, celebrate, seduce), but creative writing in this class is something different, something more freakish, more difficult, and less likely to be about communication than disruption.
How do you learn creativity?
Some people say you can't learn creativity. Maybe they're right. But I'm supposed to help you with this. So what shall we do?
One experiment I like is to listen--really listen--to the ideas, conversations, language, images, people, and situations that really call to me. What do you hear right now? What are your real obsessions? What are your fetishes in the world of language and being? If you think of something, write it down!
Another experiment is to keep a journal where you write down all these obsessive bits of potential then return to them later when you need to draft.
Another experiment (more traditional, yes, but still just a shot in the dark toward artistry) is to read voraciously. I learn huge, wonderful things by reading many different authors writing in many different genres (except the Hallmark genre, I guess). I always look for the things that surprise me, and somehow coming in contact with this makes me see a larger universe (and perhaps this is what originality means). If you don't like to read, forget about being an artistic writer (and forget about being in this class).
I also like to experiment by reading peer writing and making critiques on it. Painful as it might be, I'm currently in a workshop where I read other people's work. and they read over mine. When I can begin to say what I think isn't working in their writing, I can begin to tell myself the same things. We will do a lot of workshopping in this class and it will require a deep level of involvement from you.
I always experiment by reading craft advice--our text-book is filled with advice often in the form of strange and interesting exercises. I use what seems helpful to me in the moment, try to learn something new, and leave the rest for another time when I'm ready.
The most important experiment (the one you can't avoid if you really want to call yourself a writer) is to actually write. In other words, practice the craft of writing by getting words on a page, thinking about those words, sharing those words with other people, listening to critiques of those words, revising them and then revising them again, and again, and again. Getting in the simple habit of sitting down to write no matter how bad you think it is is a related experiment. This is called making yourself available (and it hurts, but is very necessary).
Please get out of my class if you don't want to seriously experiment in these and other ways. I just won't have patience for people who think they can waste our time with apathy.
1. Attendance is, of course, essential: Your voice adds greatly to our community of writers, and when you are not here and prepared, our class, and our learning, are hugely diminished. If you miss more than 3 classes, your grade will go down. If you miss 5 classes, you will NOT pass this class. If you arrive late 3 times, this will also count as one of your absences. You are allowed to make up a maximum of 2 absences with extra credit assignments (see below).
If you do arrive late, or miss a class, please do not interrupt class to give me excuses or ask me what's going on. Consult with a responsible class mate afterward to see what you missed.
2. Your active participation with homework readings, in-class discussions, workshops, Internet exchanges, and in-class writing is the best way for you to learn more about writing. Intelligent discussion helps to expand your mind, and your mind is your most important creative writing tool. Do not be shy. Please think and speak actively in this class, and always be very prepared.
3. Completing work on time is important. If you turn in late work you will lose 5 points for each week it is late. This gives you some leeway, but it will also cancel out many small assignments.
4. Respect, Seriousness, and Maturity are absolutely necessary, especially when we will be looking at diverse writing by those who accept criticism as if it were a dagger in the spine. I will assume you are all mature adults and treat you accordingly until you show me otherwise. You dictate the level of respect.
5. NO CELL PHONES or other distracting devices or apps or ear buds or shopping or Facebook or Tumbler or Pinterest etc. If I allow you to have laptops, and I tell you put away them away and face me, please close them. If I see or hear you on your phone, I will automatically deduct 5 points for each time I see you with it. This Salon article about not tweeting during Breaking Bad might give insight into multitasking problems.
6. Be sure to pay attention to your Web Calendar and keep up with the work. Also watch Canvas Announcements or E. Mail for news, clarifications, assignments, and updates. You can send me E. Mail at email@example.com.
7. Writing Assignments must be turned in the day they are due or you will lose 5 points. Always keep a photo copy and disk backup for yourself. Always keep your work saved on a thumb drive or similar device.. Endorse assignments using publication submission format.
For Prose, double space everything except your personal information (unless you are experimenting). Place this information in the top left corner like this:
Last Name 1
Your Full Address
Your Phone Number
Word Count: XXX
Title of Story
This is the beginning of your
story. Please double space so that
we can write a lot of comments in
the margins and between lines.
This is standard publication
format. If, however, you actually
want to play with your formatting,
line breaks, paragraph styles,
etc., after you put in the usual
page info at the top, you may
format as you like.
For Poetry, put the above information in the top right corner. Poems are usually never double spaced (except between stanzas). Here is an example:
Title of Poem
This is your first stanza.
Then double space
For Plays, you will need to follow a special formatting for each page, so look it up on the web at: http://www.vcu.edu/arts/playwriting/adobeformatpage.pdf
8. You are required to word process your creative work. In order to work with more of you individually, you may be given occasional times in class to write and revise unless you show me you are not mature enough to handle this kind of freedom.
9. I will be available for consultations with you during hours or by appointment (see above). Please come talk with me about your ideas, creative endeavors, or things you don't understand about any of the experiments we are doing.
10. Students with Disabilities - If you have any disability which may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department (WB 146; 863-8747). Academic accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the Accessibility Services Department.
11. Remember, no children or pets (unless service animals) are allowed in classrooms at UVU--please visit the Wee Care Center.
12. Writing Lab: (LI 208) Tutors are available to help you learn more about grammar--though creative writing often breaks grammar rules as well. You can also use their on-line OWL lab though most tutors will focus on genres other than creative writing. Lab personnel will not fix or edit errors. They will mark some spelling, grammar or punctuation errors, but they will not correct these errors. They will make general suggestions about how you can learn to fix the problems on your own. If I have to send editors perfect work, you have to "send" me perfect work as well for your final drafts.
Creative Writing Assignments - points and assignments are subject to change--see Canvas assignments for details:
YOU WILL LIKELY BE GRADED ON A PERCENTAGE OF THE WORK YOU COMPLETE, THOUGH THE QUALITY OF YOUR WORK WILL ALSO LIKELY BE CONSIDERED BEYOND MERE POINTS.
- Up to 10 Metro exercises in poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and playwriting (10-30 pts each).
- Writing Journal (not a "personal" journal) with observations, drafts, story ideas, eavesdroppings, etc. each week - 5 pts each
- Portfolio with your four best revised works - up to 50-100 pts
5-7 Reading Reactions (300-600 words) as needed on authors we are reading in Metro, in our books, or on the Web - 30pts each;
A 600 word, double-spaced Touchstones journal review - 30pts
2 Outside Reading Reactions to live readings, plays, or other creative events attended followed by a thoughtful, 600 words, double-spaced writerly reaction to each (these may be done via email) - 30pts each
- 1 or more poems, stories, or plays submitted for publication to UVU's Touchstones magazine, or Warp and Weave, or some regional or national literary journal/magazine - 30pts
- Active In-Class Participation (yes, you will be writing comments on other people's work, and these comments will be graded by me and your peers) - up to 50pts
- Active, In-Class Workshop Participation - up to 50pts
- Attendance (see above)! Missing class will lower your grade no matter what kind of writer you are. Missing workshops will lower your grade even further.
Extra Credit (to make up for a maximum of 2 absences you will need to complete 2 extra credit assignments):
2 additional Outside Readings, plays, or literary videos attended and written up - 600 words and up to 30pts each (some literary videos include the wonderful Voices and Visions videos in our library; the Lannan Series videos in our library--check out Sandra Cisneros! There are also movies at Blockbuster written by authors like The Sweet Hereafter [Russell Banks], The Ice Storm [Rick Moody], Short Cuts [Raymond Carver], or interesting independent movies like Run Lola Run, Amelie, or Pan's Labyrinth that I would accept). Also see Youtube.com videos of our authors.
1 outside invited reading or performance given - 10pts
A special writing award or publication (like in Touchstones) - 10pts
A writing conference attended - up to 30pts
- NANOWRIMO (fall)- up to 20 pts
Points and assignments are subject to change. Grade may be calculated based on a percentage of the work you have completed.See Canvas!
Academic Honesty/Plagiarism Statement: Plagiarism, or the use of others’ words or ideas without proper attribution, is an impediment to your education and to the educational mission of Utah Valley State College. Under the policy of the English and Literature Department of UVU, work that has been plagiarized must receive a failing grade. A distinction is made between unintentionally plagiarized work, which must be corrected in order to be considered for a passing grade, and intentional plagiarism, which will be forwarded to the Office of the Dean of Student Life as a disciplinary matter in accordance with UVU’s statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. Evidence of intentional plagiarism will cause you to fail this course. Please refer to www.UVU.edu/courseinfo/engl/plagiarism_policy.html to read the department’s full statement on plagiarism, and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about avoiding plagiarism.Please also be aware that there is a difference between plagiarism and pastiche, a postmodern writing technique, but not everyone knows about this.
EVALUATION OF WRITTEN WORK
Ok, so either I make A LOT of comments on your work, or give your work a grade, and you feel bad, or I don't make very many comments or don't give you a grade and you feel cheated. Usually I prefer to make a lot of comments and not give you grades (grades on works-in-progress seem punishing and silly). Sometimes I do give grades, but they seem false.
I make A LOT of comments on your work. These comments are based on my bias toward tightly revised, cliché-free language, consistently interesting voices, playful experimentation, believability, strangeness, as well as comments focused on the writing elements we discuss in class. These comments do not reflect the kind of grade you will get in my class. It is very difficult to finish an outstanding, perfect piece of writing in one semester. Most of us will continue to revise the pieces we create in here for many years to come. Often I will only give you my grade estimate for your overall performance at the midterm and then at the end of the course. You can always ask me for a grade estimate as we go through the course.
However, your final grade does have to reflect your writing ability. Attending class each day, participating, being a thoughtful critic, reading well, doing your write-ups, having a lot of generated work (that also takes some risks), and making good, brave revisions can certainly put you in a higher grade category, so do not feel like there is no hope even if your writing is still inexperienced (or boring).
Here's what UVU policy says about grading--we will likely differ on this...
So, what might be the best writing?
A publishable writing assignment is outstanding, and the good ones (for not all published work is good) the good ones are amazing, smashingly so. It is unique, clear, full of descriptive, but not flowery prose. It's beginning is eye catching. It's ending is close to being perfect, which means it will close in such a way that the whole story or poem or essay or play must be reinterpreted--the ending leaves room for more possibilities, but it suggests a true change has occurred (a popular example of this in seen in Northern Exposure on television). Its characters are fully developed and avoid the clichéd for the most part. If narrative is in use, it pulls me through the piece, makes me want to turn the pages, yet it does not hit me over the head with something horribly dramatic like the kind of film where you know the child is going to be run over, and it does not manipulate me into emotion. If it is poetry, or fiction, it will not have any words that do not contribute to some overall, evolving meaning. It also shows an intelligence, which means it does not try to mimic other styles of writing in wrong-headed way, but it
The "A" writing (A = 95-100%; A- = 90-94%) writing assignment may or may not be publishable, but it will probably have many of the elements a publishable piece would have. It will have to be excellent, but may still need work on an element or two. Revision is the key to a better grade!
The "B" writing (B+ = 87-89%; B = 84-86%; B- = 80-83%) writing assignment is good, or above average. It too will have some of the good elements from above, but it might need more revisions, or have one major weakness that still needs more work.
- The "C" writing (B+ = 77-79%; B = 74-76%; B- = 70-73%) writing assignment is not horrible, but probably still needs quite a lot of work. I might give C's when you don't turn in a full draft (a beginning, middle, and end).
- The "D" writing (D+ = 67-69%; D = 64-66%; D- = 60-63%) writing assignment is below average, and probably means you put so little work into your piece that it really is hardly worth looking at, but look at it I must. Most people who really work at it seriously will not get this grade. There are those who may have enough trouble with grammar that they get a low grade like this, but they will need to work to get beyond those kinds of problems and into the C or B or A range where they belong.
- E and UW's fall under the above percentages, in the 59% and lower range.
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2017