This is what I’ve become.

This is what I’ve become.

Teaching Writing

It’s been four months since I started my new job, and the things I most feared have happened.

  • I’ve stopped blogging here.
  • I haven’t been working on my novel as much as I’d like.
  • I care about stuff that I never cared about before–like bulletin boards and registration time tickets and how class rooms are assigned and posters and scheduling grids.

I’m not surprised. Administrating changes you. Entire realms which have been hidden from view suddenly appear, and all you can really say is, “Holy shit.”

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Last Lecture: You’re part of a small army. What will you fight for?

CW Programs Literary Citizenship Teaching
small army meetup
A small-army meetup led by Chris Guillebeau

At the end of the semester, I write a post which functions like a “last lecture” to my students. Here’s one on that perennial question, “Am I a writer?” And here’s another on “What matters more: story or sentences?” Given that one of my classes was mentioned yesterday on Salon.com, I thought I’d focus this semester’s last lecture on the topic of literary citizenship and why I teach it.

What comes next? 

I’ve always done a last lecture, even before I had a blog.

For 15 years, I’ve ended my creative writing classes by showing students how to submit work to literary magazines. This is nothing special; lots of creative writing teachers do this. You bring in a huge stack of magazines, show students how to research where to send their work, how to write a cover letter, how to keep track of submissions, how to deal with the inevitable rejections.

I showed students my rejections. I showed them bad cover letters (names redacted) that I’d swiped from a friend who edited a literary magazine. I talked about how long it can take to place a story—months or years. I ended by saying, “If you want to be a writer, this is the next step you need to take.”

Generally, I got three types of reactions:

  1. Some students got excited about the process of taking the next step.
  2. Some freaked out. They said, “Why didn’t you tell us this sooner? We should have been doing this the whole time!”
  3. Some students zoned out.

I want to talk about these three types of students.

The 1’s who get excited

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This Blog is a Waste of My Time: Thoughts on the Three-Year Anniversary of The Big Thing

Teaching Writing

waste of timeI’ve been thinking a lot lately about this blog. Last week, I wrote about “lore” and informally trading teaching information vs. formally publishing teaching research.

This blog began because in 2010, I wrote an essay about teaching.  I realized that the default setting of all my classes–of most fiction-writing classes, really–was the short story. I wanted to tweak that default setting. Not just in my own classes. I wanted to inspire other people to tweak theirs, too. Continue reading

This Blog is Lore: How We Talk about Teaching Creative Writing

Teaching
This is me in 1997 when I got my first TT teaching job at Mankato State University.
This is me in 1997 when I got my first TT teaching job at Mankato State University.

This blog began because I like to talk about teaching. I always have.

I stepped in front of a class for the first time in 1991.

I was a rookie grad student, and once I got over my stage fright, I realized that teaching is like an incredibly interesting puzzle or math equation that always needs solving.

It’s absorbing, fascinating work.

And I love to talk shop. It’s my virtual teacher’s lounge.

Teaching Creative Writing

Next semester, I’m teaching a grad course called “Teaching in English Studies: Creative Writing,” which is offered every other year.

Given how much I like to talk teaching, you’d think I’d be really into teaching this course, and I am! But it troubles me, too, and it relates to the things that trouble me about the position of creative writing in English departments, and the things that trouble me about the work I put into this blog. Continue reading

This is the 7th Time I Taught Novel Writing

This is the 7th Time I Taught Novel Writing

Teaching
Beta Group 1 meets while the rest of the class gets some writing done.
Beta Group 1 meets while the rest of the class gets some writing done.

End-of-Term Observations

As you probably noticed, I didn’t blog much about teaching this course this semester.

I think that’s because I’ve almost got it “down” now, which is a relief after three years of tweaking!

What They Wrote

This is the seventh straight semester I’ve taught this course, and it always works out that: of 15 students

  • about a third write realism
  • about two thirds write something else

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Most Words Drafted–Fall 2013

Teaching

Here are the winners of the Most Words Drafted competition in my novel-writing class. The whole semester of this course is archived here.

First place: Liz Winks

LizLiz wrote 64,309 words this semester. Her satirical novel is entitled The Grand War: or, How We Screwed Over the World to Get What We Wanted. She plans to keep writing during the break and the spring semester until she’s got a first draft–and given her amazing productivity, I have no doubt that she’ll do it, too.

You can follow Liz’s main character Otto von Visscher on Twitter. He’s a scientist.

I asked Liz to talk about how she got all this writing done this semester. Here’s what she said. Continue reading

What I Learned from John Keeble

What I Learned from John Keeble

Teaching

I attended the University of Alabama’s MFA program between 1991-1995. During that period, I took two workshops with writer John Keeble, a visiting writer who taught at Eastern Washington University. He made a great impression on both my writing and my teaching.

In fact, the title of this blog, “The Big Thing,” comes from Keeble. I wrote about that here, and how I might not have written The Circus in Winter had he not changed the default setting of a pivotal workshop.

Here’s something else I learned from him.

Plant the Seed of Your Story

In workshop, Keeble talked to us a lot about “planting the seed of your story.” Once you figure out what your story is really about, you have to return to the the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence! and plant the story’s “seed” that you will nurture and grow for the next 5-30 pages. Continue reading

Is Gaming Bad for Fiction Writers?

Is Gaming Bad for Fiction Writers?

Teaching Writing

The other day, I was reading an undergraduate student’s novel in progress, and a thought occurred to me. As I often do, I shared that thought on Facebook:

I’ve never played a video game, but I recognize that it’s a narrative experience that lots and lots of people value. No judgement. But in my fiction-writing classes, I often read stories and novels that read as if I’m watching someone else play a video game. There’s plot, action, scene, all great, but virtually no interiority, which for me is *absolutely necessary* in fiction. My students have always used films and TV shows to talk about fiction, but now they also reference video games. “This is like Bioshock,” for example, and I have no idea what that even means. I wonder if other creative writing teachers have noticed this quality in student fiction or these references? I wonder if people who play video games could give me some tips about how to help my students make the transition from gaming to writing narrative. P.S. Over the last few years, I’ve read lot more genre fiction (George R.R. Martin, Suzanne Collins, etc.) so that I could at least be familiar with the kinds of stories students borrow from, but I really don’t want to start playing games.

I made the comment public and a great conversation ensued. As of right now, there are 80 comments–from gamers and non-gamers, from creative writing professors and students, from friends and strangers. The conversation was passionate. I invite you to read the comments here. Continue reading