Exercises (Xs)

A lot of different kinds of writing get called creative nonfiction, and I have no interest in predetermining the forms your writing for this course might take. But it does seem to me that a few basic kinds of work or research underlie the writing of much nonfiction. Specifically, I’d argue that most nonfiction prose is based in work with experiences, events, persons, or texts. I’ve thus designed a series of exercises (Xs) which aim to get you to try your hand at writing pieces grounded in these different sorts of research.

The main X assignments for this course are:

  • X1: Experience-based: Retell something that happened to you—either in the recent or distant past—as accurately and vividly as you can.
  • X2: Event-based: Take notes on an event as it unfolds before you. (Do not write about an event in which you are a participant.) Retell that scene in your writing.
  • X3:Person-based: Talk with someone who interests you and write a piece based on that conversation.
  • X4: Text-based: Write in response to a text that engages you— a book, play, movie, video, song, image, etc.

There are three other brief assignments which I will count in my grade book as Xs:

  • X5:Class picks: Find a nonfiction essay that you think the rest of us would enjoy reading. Post a link to or PDF of the piece to this site, along with a brief description of what you admire about it.
  • X6: Digital versioning: Post one of your earlier pieces online. In doing so, make thoughtful use of the affordances of digital media—images, video, audio, hyperlinks.
  • X7: Publishing: Submit one of your writings for publication—either in print or online.

We’ll talk more about each of these kinds of writing and research as we come to them. But whatever sort of research underlies your writing, your goal should be to create pieces that show your mind at work, that give you readers a sense of your voice.  Your exercises should thus be thoughtfully crafted, but also imaginative; they are meant as drafts, beginnings, experiments. Think of them as the beginnings of pieces that you might go on to revise and develop for your writing group, and perhaps to eventually turn into one of your final essays. Your goal should be to try out ideas and approaches, to see what works and what doesn’t.

I will ask you to post your first four X assignments to Google Drive, and I will choose three or four pieces each week for us to talk about as a class. In doing so, I will always choose pieces that show strong potential for development. You should thus expect to have at least one or two of your exercises discussed in class over the course of the semester. I will also write some brief comments on each of your exercises, usually trying to offer you an idea or two about how you might develop them.

I will grade your Xs with a √ or √–. To earn a √, your work needs to be thoughtful, substantive, carefully edited, and on time.

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