English 3450 Syllabus
Nonfiction Writing - last updated January 8, 2018
I'm Lee Ann Mortensen and I have a BS in Psychology, and an MFA in Creative Writing Fiction and Playwriting 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 prose (which means it isn't everything for everyone). I've been published in journals like Ploughshares, River Styx and Prism International.
OFFICE: Classroom building CB410d (Touchstones posters and prayer flags outside)--E.mail is the best way to get ahold of me.
HOURS: I'm usually in my office CB410d by appointment, though I am often there MW 4:00-5:00PM or MW 8:30-9:30PM or in my classroom CB413 just down the hall. Be sure to also take advantage of consultation days.
The Best American Essays: 2013. Ed. Cheryl Strayed. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.
Lopate, Phillip. To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary NonFiction. New York: Free Press, 2013.
Winterson, Jeanette. Why be Happy When You can be Normal? London: Grove Press, 2011.
Xeroxes of your stories for class workshops at least twice or more during the semester.
The Internet, email, and word processing software--Word 365 is available to all students. We will have readings and lectures available as links from the Course Web Calendar that you MUST be able to access daily. You must be able to access Canvas to turn in your assignments. A computer with the Internet, E.mail, and MS Word (or the equivalent) either at home or on campus, is thus required (all of you can use the Open Lab computers in PS101, SC215, and on the first floor of the library--you can also scan and print from these locations). Go to the Center for Student Computing Web site for more information at http://www.uvu.edu/studentcomputing/openlabs/ . You must be able to convert your files into PDF's (which is easy to do in MS Word by clicking on Files, then click on).
A good dictionary (of course; I have a large one by my computer at home).
Some authors are obsessed their whole lives with a single subject, like their father never giving them love, or their clashing sexualities, or their love of the west. What are your obsessions? Of course even if you can figure out what you really want to write about, you need to be aware that only time and practice, as John Gardner (one of the gurus of traditional realistic fiction) says, can really make us better writers.
In Best American Short Stories 1999, Amy Tan tells us a number of stories about her past in order to explain her choices in the collection. What are creative nonfictional tastes based on? Your father reading fairy tales to you? Your need to collect green paper? Your inability to get over a broken, 16-year-old heart? Your subjectivities, or what I like to call your fetish-obsessions, are the very places you need to look into to find your deepest, best, most original work.
Stephen Minot says we need to be loyal to the facts in creative non-fiction, but not all writers are loyal: Sedaris, Winterson are examples.
Philip Lopate, a well respected creative nonfiction writer, will be our writing guru for the semester (among others). He writes elloquently and clearly about writerly things like the need to make yourself a character in your writing (to adopt a narrative persona that allows you to find the art in your stories). Lopate also writes about the important need to be reflective in your writing, to really think about the surface meanings, but also deeper meanings of the stories you are telling (a story is usually never just good all by itself--nonfiction writers are often great at thinking about the deeper philosophical elements of their writing.
Something more--Lee's (and everyone else's) Writerly Rules:
GRADING What appears below is a possibility--the Web Calendar and Canvas will lay out your assignments and points in detail under Grades (subject to change as needed). Grades are partially based on a percentage of the work completed, though in my experience everything completed on time usually results in a B or higher. A's are not dependent on effort but on your ability to write creatitively and think critically at a more intense literary level on all your assignments and in your participation. If you turn in a lot of late work, or if you are missing more than a few assignments, you may not be able to pass the class. If you miss too much class (5 classes) you may not be able to pass the class.
1. Attendance is, of course, essential: Your voice adds greatly to our community of writers in a workshop, and when you are not here, our class, and our learning, are hugely, and obviously, diminished. You can miss 5 class periods, but if you miss more, 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. You can contact each other in Canvas (this can also help later if you wish to form an outside workshop after class).
- Simply not missing classes doesn't raise your grade. You have to listen, and apply what you're learning.
2. Your active participation with 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. Try not to be shy. Please think and speak actively in this class.
3. Respect 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.
4. NO CELL PHONES or other distracting devices or apps or ear buds 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 the problems with concentration and multitasking.
5. LATE WORK: Writing Assignments must be turned in the day they are due or you will lose 5 points for each week they are late until
Always keep your work saved in multiple places--dropbox, jump disks, gdocs etc. Endorse assignments by 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.
6. I advise you to word process your creative work (duh). All of you can use the Open Lab computers in SC 116; SB101; AD007; SC215. Go to the Center for Student Computing Web site for more information at http://www.uvu.edu/studentcomputing/openlabs/. Don't write prose on your phones or Ipads--this often creates huge amounts of errors.
7. Be sure to pay attention to the Web Calendar and turn in Assignments on Canvas. Also watch your Canvas Announcements or E. Mail for news, clarifications, assignments, and updates. Your on-campus UVLink E. Mail system can be set to forward messages to your most used email address which you can also get set up to receive Canvas messages (so please set this up). You can send me E. Mail at email@example.com or trom Canvas.
8.Students with Disabilities - If you have any disability which may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the Accessibility Services Department (LC 312; https://www.uvu.edu/accessibility/ ; 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. I must have a letter from their office to give you accomodations. I have to do this same thing to receive accomodations.
9. If you have not had a College Writing I course yet or its equivalent, or if you have not had 2250 or 225H, please see me.
10. Remember, no children are allowed in classrooms at UVU--please visit the Wee Care Center.
11. Final exams cannot be taken early.
Every "Point" (or move toward favorability) Counts (subject to change)! YOU WILL LIKELY BE GRADED ON A PERCENTAGE OF THE WORK YOU COMPLETE, AS WELL AS THE QUALITY OF YOUR WORK, and your attentance/participation. These estimates are subject to change--see Canvas.
4-8 exercises - 40 to 80pts+
2-4 complete workshops of you work--mandatory--if you miss your own or other's workshops, you will lose 5 pts or more per time.
Final creative nonfiction revision - 50pts
4-6 Reading Reactions (600 word critical and writerly reactions to the authors we are reading) - 30 pts each
- Writerly Journal (in-class exercises, out of class exercises, observations, drafts, story ideas, eavesdroppings) - 5-10pts per submission.
- 600 word, double-spaced Touchstones Journal writerly review with a focus on nonfiction - 30pts
Active In-Class Workshop Participation (I will have you grade each other's quantity/quality of commenting). 50-100pts
1 or more nonfiction stories submitted for publication to UVU's Touchstones magazine or Warp n Weave - 50
Discussion Participation (discussing our topics out loud) - 50 pts
- If you miss workshop, you will miss 5-10 points each time.
- Avoid late work since you lose 5 points for each assignment per week.
Extra Credit (to make up for a maximum of 2 absences you will need to complete 2 extra credit assignments):
1 reading, play, or literary video seen and written about in 600 words - 30pts (some literary videos are available all over Youtube--look up some of the authors from our course readings; others 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 written by authors like SLC Punk;
1 outside reading or performance given - 30pts
A special writing award or publication - 30pts
A writing conference attended - 60pts
Points and assignments are subject to change. Grade is based on a percentage of the total points and other negotiations. See Canvas for details.
OTHER REQUIREMENTS AND HELP
Computer Labs: The CSC computer openlabs (SC116; SB101; AD007; CS215) and those in the library are open for you to do your work.
Writing Lab: (LA 201) Tutors are available to help you learn more about grammar--though creative writing often breaks some 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.
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 University. 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 http://www.uvu.edu/english/student/plagiarism.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 (like a DJ sampling other's work), 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.
I can 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 reactions, having original works (that also take 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). The fewer late assignments, the better, obviously.
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 assignment may or may not be publishable, but it will probably have some of the elements a publishable piece would have. It will have to be super but may still need work on an element or two. Revision is the key to a better grade!
The "B" 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.
- Most New Work--The "C" 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).
- Some New Work--"D" writing assignments are rough, 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.
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2018