This is the 7th Time I Taught Novel Writing
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
This semester, the groups were:
- Fantasy (entirely made up worlds)
- Realism (coming-of-age, historical fiction, thriller, satire, a memoir)
- Supernatural (part our world, part not our world)
I don’t know why it always works out that way, but it does. Seven semesters.
If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll see that over the last few years I’ve been reading a lot more YA and fantasy. I feel like reading the George R. R. Martin books this summer and fall, for example, helped me be a better reader of the fantasy novels in my class. I know squat about fantasy–and I always tell them that.
But let me say this: you don’t need to have read ANY fantasy in order to read someone’s fantasy novel and offer an opinion. The only trick is whether the student is smart enough to still listen to you even after you admit that you’re unfamiliar with the genre.
What I Wrote
I wrote 2000 words a week along with my students. See, it’s all here. I ended up writing about 20,000 words this term, including a few new chapters for my novel, so that makes me happy.
I learned that I must stop waiting until the weekend to write. I have to open up the document at least a few times a week, even if it’s only to play with a few paragraphs.
Practice what you preach and all that.
Inside and Outside
The students in the class (inside the fishbowl) blogged each week about what we did for the benefit of the hundred or so people who subscribed to the blog and followed along (outside the fishbowl). You can sort of take the class–emphasis on sort of. Start here at Week 1 and follow along.
Note: I will not be offer a class transparently like this again.
- I’m glad that a few very dedicated people followed along and got well into their novels.
- I’m glad that my students learned a little about blogging.
- I’m glad that the class is archived for anyone else who cares to “take” it.
But no, I will not ever try that again. My energies were spread so thin I don’t know if they really benefitted anyone.
Lower Word-Count Quotas
A big change this term was that I required only 2000 words a week from students.
- My first year, students wrote about 3500 a week.
- The second year, students wrote 3000 a week.
- My third year, students wrote 2250 a week.
Ultimately, I decided that it’s important not to assign students more than the AAUP-recommended 6 hours of work outside class each week. I’ve been thinking a lot about time this term, as you know. I decided that 2000 a week was more realistic given the other demands of the class (reading novels, writing papers, etc.).
Despite the lowered quota, many students in this course struggled to get the writing done–more so even than when the word-count quotas were higher. I’m not sure how to explain this. If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.
Changes that are working well
I include myself in the Beta Group meetings and read 5 partials a week for three weeks rather than trying to read all 15 at once.
Ending the semester with a simulated submission process (using the students in another class as faux agents) has been very popular with all students involved and has provided a great occasion to talk about how vetting in publishing works.
Changes I’ll try next time
—Beta Group Bonding: putting students in their Beta Groups by genre interest right away AND making them sit together AND creating occasions for them to share their work with each other (either by trading pages or by getting them talking).
—Fewer novels. We did four. It was too much.
—The Reverse Storyboard Project remains one of the most significant challenges of the semester. They do the activity well, but they struggle to write the paper that articulates what they learned and how they learned it. Probably because they aren’t giving themselves enough time to write the paper after completing the activity. Next time, I’m going to create two deadlines: one for the activity (the cards) and one for the paper.
I can’t believe I’ve taught this class seven times.
Honestly, I think I need to take a break. The course is “Advanced Fiction,” and I teach it as novel-writing, although I could just as easily teach it any number of ways, or simply as an advanced-level workshop, just like I did for a long, long time.
This is what I do, you see. Do something for a few years, figure it out, and then change things up again.
But this is very very bad for my writing. Every time I give myself a new class to figure out, that takes a lot of time away from writing.
We shall see…