Most Words Drafted–Fall 2013


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

Teaching Tuesday: Do the Math

Teaching Tuesday: Do the Math

Higher Ed

I’m sort of nervous about this post. Let’s see how it goes.

It’s incredibly difficult to gauge how much work to assign students and how much work to give yourself. I think you have to be in a place for at least a year or more to get it right.

Here are some things you can do to avoid mid-semester meltdowns.

  • Ask to see a sampling of syllabi of the classes you teach; how much work do others generally assign? If they’ve been there for awhile, they probably know what works.

  • Are you teaching on quarters or semesters? Are the courses 4 credits or 3 credits?

  • Ask how many classes students generally take a semester. If they take four a term, your course will probably need to be a little more rigorous than if they take five or six a term.

  • Are they on the quarter or semester system? How many students will be in your classes?


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Bringing New York Publishing to Muncie, Indiana

Literary Citizenship Teaching
This is the table where BSU Board of Trustees meets. It's kind of awesome.
This is the table where BSU Board of Trustees meets. It’s kind of awesome.

Thanks to a grant from the Discovery Group, I’ve hired 11 Ball State students for internships at this summer’s Midwest Writers Workshop.

I’ve told you before about this conference, but here it is again.

Some backstory

Ever since I arrived at Ball State in 2010, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to expose students to the benefits of this conference.   MWW is run by a group of dedicated volunteers. It’s not funded by Ball State University; it just happens to take place on campus. One day, I was talking about this to BSU professor Beth Turcotte (who knows everything about how to find the resources to make amazing things happen) and she recommended I look into the Discovery grant, and boom, I applied. In December, I found out I was a finalist and made a presentation to the members, and in February, I found out I’d been funded. I quickly put out a call for applications, and by April, I’d assembled my team.  Continue reading

The Next Thing: Professionalization in Creative Writing

CW Programs Literary Citizenship Teaching

Careers (job search)Not every Creative Writing major wants to go to grad school, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if most of them want to be published writers. What brings them to our classes, I think, is a desire to be connected to the world of books. This essay by Dean Bakopoulos speaks to that desire.

Creative writing isn’t a pre-professional discipline. We’re not like some academic majors which prepare students for a concrete, discernible “next thing,” such as graduate study, this job, that career path. When my students say, “What I can do with this degree?” I talk about “transferable skills.” I point them in the direction of the career center. Continue reading

Last Lecture: What matters more: Story or Sentence?

Last Lecture: What matters more: Story or Sentence?

Teaching Writing

Every time I teach novel writing, I end the semester with a “Last Lecture” on a topic that’s been on my mind all semester long. Last spring, I wrote about learning to self-identify as a writer; this post, “Am I Writer?” has been viewed about 1,500 times. And Google Analytics tells me that people spend an average of eight minutes on this post–which is not that surprising when you consider how urgently people need an answer to that question. This semester, I’ve decided to write about whether a novelist should focus more on The Story or The Sentence.

Kameron and Kayla won my “Most Words Drafted Contest”? Why? What set them apart? 

Both wrote scene-driven fiction with lots of dialogue. They took my advice and “sketched” their novels, temporarily suspending concern for “good writing” at the sentence level and focused on “getting the story down.” Continue reading

My Next Big Thing: Literary Citizenship

My Next Big Thing: Literary Citizenship

Literary Citizenship Teaching

For the last few years, I’ve ended my classes with a presentation/pep talk on Literary Citizenship (basically this post as a Power Point). But next semester, I’m going to teach a whole class on Literary Citizenship.

Course descriptions are due this week, so I just wrote this up:

A literary citizen is an aspiring writer who understands that you have to contribute to, not just expect things from, the publishing world. This course will teach you how to take advantage of the opportunities offered by your campus, regional and national literary communities and how you can contribute to those communities given your particular talents and interests. It will also help you begin to professionalize yourself as a writer. You will learn how to 1.) create your own professional blog or website, 2.) use social media to build your writing community, 3.) interview writers and publish those interviews, 4.) review books and publish those reviews, 5.) submit poems, stories, and essays to literary magazines, 6.) query agents and editors regarding book manuscripts, 7.) apply to graduate programs and write an effective statement of purpose, 8.) deliver an effective public reading of your work, 9.) pitch to an agent, 10.) craft a professional résumé. Students who complete the course in an exemplary fashion will be eligible to apply for internship positions as Social Media Tutors at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie July 25-27, 2013. 

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Last Lecture: “Am I a writer?”

Last Lecture: “Am I a writer?”

CW Programs Teaching The Biggest Things Writing

At the end of the semester, I give presentations in my novel-writing classes about the publishing business. Many students are seniors getting ready to graduate. Hence, they are full of anxieties. The first thing they say is: Why didn’t anyone teach us about this sooner!

This is what I tell them.

Continue reading

When Students Friend Me

When Students Friend Me


[Teacher friends: Feel free to adapt this and use it on your own syllabi.]

MY SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY: This course will introduce you to the ways in which social media will become a part of your professional writing life. For example, we will use blogs and Twitter to share information with each other and connect to other writing communities. I have multiple email addresses and social media accounts that I use in order to communicate as my various selves: the writer and teacher me, who is mostly very public vs. the wife/friend/daughter/sister me who is more private.

When you “friend” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you become a part of my professional network, not my private one, and I expect the same consideration from you. Consider your friend or follow request to be the moment you begin your transition from using social media for play and personal use to a more professional approach. You need to remember that your professors aren’t your friends; they are mentors and supervisors. They will write letters of introduction and recommendation for you. Over and over, you will need them to vouch for you. They are “connections” in the best possible sense of that word. As you prepare to enter the workforce, and especially if you want to be a professional writer, you must learn to separate private communication from public. It is incredibly unwise to “friend” your professors and then complain about your classes, assignments, or professors, as if you are only talking to your close friends. It is also unwise to use social media to passively-aggressively complain about a professor’s assignments or grades. In the real world, this sort of behavior might get you fired, or at the very least, might cost you a positive recommendation. On every recommendation form, I must assess your character, maturity, and discretion. Be appropriate at all times.

Before you send me that request, consider creating a profile or account that represents the Young Professional You, the Future You, not the High School You, Letting Your Hair Down You, I Feel Like Venting You.

My Blogroll, My Students


Just so you know: I’ve been thinking about this idea–THE BIG THING–for ten years now. Ask my students.

How many have worked with me on a Big Thing?

Oh my.


This is the statement that goes in the syllabus of a Big Thing Workshop.

Your goal is to produce what I call a “big thing,” fifty pages of polished work. This can be the beginning of a novel, a novella, a series of interrelated stories, a collection of non-related short stories, fifty one-page stories, or a combination of things. I want you to aspire with this project. I want you to aim high. I want you to start writing the book you’ve always wanted to write, but never seem to have the time for. I want you to care deeply about whatever it is that you’re writing about. Much of the work you have to do will take place outside of class, in solitude. But when we are together, we will work collectively to help each other achieve our individual goals. In other words, you must expect much from yourself and give even more to each other. If you aren’t ready for something like this, then please bow out gracefully now.

But they never drop.

Most people think they have at least one book inside them. Sometimes all you need to do is tell them that it’s time to try and write it.

Sometimes that big thing is published. Usually it’s not, but does that have to be the point? Sometimes the big thing becomes part of an application to a writing program or a fellowship program, an opportunity that leads the writer to another place, another subject, another big thing. Sometimes I recognize bits and pieces in their blogs. Sometimes those 50 pages become a single poem. Sometimes the humbling experience of having attempted a big thing leads to a life-long appreciation of books. Sometimes they never write another word of fiction, but they write other things instead. They teach. They read. They write. They blog. They review. They edit. They participate. There are about a million ways to be a writer, and you don’t have to publish a book with Random House or get a job teaching creative writing. You just need to write.

So, I decided to use my blogroll to show off the different ways my former students are making literary lives for themselves. Today I reached out to a young woman who graduated last year and is going through what Ted Solotaroff called “writing in the cold.” And she responded right away: “I’m so excited for this now. I’ve been trying to read as many writing blogs as I can because it helps the feeling of isolation when you’re working on a project for hours and hours all by your lonesome. I’m so excited to get back to work on my Big Thing but also TERRIFIED. Time to conquer that fear and keep on learning!”

My blogroll, then, is a kind of family tree. It’s a link to my students’ blogs and websites (some personal, some professional, most a little of both), and I hope it gives you (and them) a sense of how many different ways there are to lead a literary life. Each link, each person is different, but what connects them is the shared experience of having written a Big Thing.

If you were a student of mine in a senior seminar or graduate workshop, please send me a link to your blog or website. If you’re reading this and you’re friends with someone who was in one of my classes, please pass it on. Thank you.