New and Improved Introduction to Creative Writing

I'm going to break loose. I've just decided that I want to completely challenge the way I teach creative writing. It might somehow effect how I teach other writing courses as well, I hope.

In order to articulate myself here, let me begin with some of my beliefs about creative writing. The most important thing is to write a lot. I've picked this up from my photography addiction. A body is never going to get good at anything by monkeying around.

Some real dedication will be necessary, on my part and on the part of my students.

Beyond that, though, I think I need to mention that an economy of exchange has taken over the universities. Everything around here is quid pro quo: I'll do a certain kind of work if you give me a certain kind of grade, and contrariwise, I'll give you a certain kind of grade if you'll do a certain kind of work.

This will be familiar to people who teach, maybe even to people who don't.

In any case, the conundrum for me has long been this: how do I get out of this economy? How can I get beyond throwing herring to the performing dolphins? How can I get them invested in the labor of learning to become better writers?

I think the answer is this...

I'm going to give my students up to 5 points per page of prose (which will include fiction, essay, exploration, exercises, and responses) and up to 15 points per page of poetry (meaning anything written with a thoughtfully and conscientiously broken line).

Here's the trick, though. To get an A out of the class, they're going to need at least 500 points. That's going to mean something like 70 pages of prose and 10 pages of poetry, which is a lot unless you think that they're going to have 84 days during the spring semester in which to work (taking one day a week off). That's a little less than a page of something a day.

And that is not only doable, it's probably imperative. When's the last time you heard of some guitar nerd getting better without playing allthe time? How about a high-percentage free throw shooter? An actuary? Well, that's how it's going to be with my writers.

Now I can just hear people talking about the issue of grading. Sure. I'm not going to really grade this stuff. That's not important. If you'll notice, I said that I'd give up to a certain amount of points. If it seems like the work is sloppy or inconsiderate (which is pretty easy to discern) then they'll only get a couple points. Solid, concerted efforts will yield max points.

Some of the assignments will be formal, some will not. Some will be in class. Some will be outside of it. Some will be exercises. Some will be actual poems, essays, and stories. This fluidity will allow for some free play in the structure of the course. Students can also invent their own assignments in addition to the ones I give them.

What about feed back? I say they can come get it from me if they want it, and if they don't, I'm not going to force it on them. I'd rather spend the bulk of my time on students who are interested in coming to talk to me. If they don't want it, if they're not going to read and absorb and try to follow it, then why give it to them?

So many portfolios sit in my office until the proscribed amount of time has passed, then I throw them in the dumpster (no recycling around here, plus there's the whole Buckley Amendment). So why waste my work like that? I'd rather spend that time in face-to-face encounters with students who want to grow. If they're just after the herring, it's there for them. If they want more, I'll have more time to give them.

Reading will also factor in, negatively. For every time I feel like a student is not prepared with the reading for the day (or with anything for that matter). They'll lose 25 points. Four times will result in a 100 point loss, which is a quarter of their total points. To fix it, they'll have to write a lot more, which won't hurt them in the least.

On the last Friday of the month, students will have to "bank" their points, which means "turn in an organized notebook of the work." I'll not grade a disorganized notebook, or at least I'll knock off a bunch of points. If they don't bank the points, they'll lose them. This should control the whole "use a bunch of different pens" phenomenon that often attends such endeavors. I'll also only bank 200 points a month, which should also help the students choose a good pace for themselves.

Who knows, this could flop miserably, but it's worth a shot.