My Responses to Your Writing

One of my goals in this course is to teach you how to work as part of a writing group—to learn how to offer other writers useful responses to their work-in-progress and how to make smart use of the comments you get on your own writing. I’ve found that these groups work best when I try not to intrude too much upon them.  Much of the feedback you receive on your work for this course, then, will come from the other writers in this class. But I will also read all the writing you do for this course. Most of my written comments on your work will be brief and direct, aimed at helping you develop your writing, to take it to the next level.

And so I will respond to your exercises with a few sentences noting what strikes me as the most promising direction your piece might take in revision. I will also lead a conversation in class about a few of the more interesting responses to each exercise. You can thus anticipate that your writing will be the focus of class discussion at least once or twice this semester.

I will respond to your revisions after each workshop. I will ask you to email me a revision plan after you meet with your writing group, in which you outline the responses you received to your draft, your current plans for revision, and any questions you may have for me. I will then you email you back with my thoughts about how you might move ahead with your essay. (That is, I will respond directly to your plan rather than to your draft.)

Your exercises and revisions will be graded with a √ or √–. Your three final essays will be the only pieces that earn a letter grade. In assigning grades, I take the idea seriously that we read creative nonfiction both for the subject and for the writer. To get an A, then, you need both to have something of real interest to say about your topic and to say it in a voice that feels your own. One of the two—an essay that’s personal but lacks insight, or an argument that’s clear but lacks a distinctive style—gets you a B. To earn an A, you need to empty the tank, to write with ambition and voice.

How to do that, and how to know when it’s being done, is the subject of this course. The best thing my comments on your work can do is lead to a conversation between us. View them as beginning thoughts, not closing statements. I will always be happy to talk more about your writing with you. Just ask. We’ll find time.