English 335:  Creative Writing 1

Fall, 1995

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30-1:00; HH 139
Randy Harris
Hagey Hall 247, x5362
Home phone (Milton): (905) 876-3972
E-mail: raha@watarts
Hours: Tuesday & Wednesday, 2:30-4:00; whenever you can catch me.
Course epitome
The course title is redundant: all writing, by definition, is creative; some more, some less. Consequently, we will be trying out several genres of (creative) nonfiction as well as the more conventional mix of fiction and poetry. This is not a course in therapeutic writing, or "self expression". It is a course in writing which explores linguistic and imaginative ways to make it more, rather than less, creative.

I donât know how to teach writing beyond principles of grammar. I donât think anyone does. I donât think it can be taught. I do think, however, think it can be learned, in two ways: by reading a lot, and by writing a lot. This course puts a grade-loaded gun to your forehead and forces you to do both. Whether you learn is up to you.

And one more thing: weâll be following the ancient rhetorical technique of imitation. You will be writing most of your assignments in other 'voices'.

Required texts
McCormack, Inspecting the vaults
Coupland, Microserfs
Small, Whatâs love got to do with it?
cummings, Selected poems
335 Course reader
Recommended text
The Canadian writer's guide
Participation 15%
Assignments 20% (weekly)
Fill-in-the-blank analysis 15% (weekly, as scheduled)
Voice journal 15% (5 December)
Peer review memo 15% (5 December)
Feature work 20% (12 December)
No late assignments will be accepted, no extensions will be granted, and no incompletes will be awarded, without very strong reasons.

Always prepare two copies of every assignment: one for me, and one for your peer reviewer.


Please have all readings done before class, and be prepared to discuss them.

Topics Assignments Readings
12  Sept Hello; how are you?     
14  Sept Hello; who are you?     
19  Sept Hello; may we see your work?  1. Short prose or poetry.   Book reviews 
21  Sept Peer review    
26  Sept Cheryl Cohen  2. Book Review  Small 
28  Sept Peer review    
Oct To be or not  In-class rewrite à la Johnston  Johnston 
Oct Peer review     
10  Oct HST and Gonzoism  3. Gonzoed non-fiction   Thompson 
12  Oct Peer review    
17  Oct Geoff Pevere  4. Movie review à la Pevere  Pevere 
19  Oct Peer review    
24  Oct Liz Renzetti  5. Pop culture Renzettied  Renzetti 
26  Oct Peer review    
31  Oct X-People  6. Fiction à laCoupland  Coupland 
Nov Peer review    
Nov Poetry; cummings  7. poem/try à la cummings  cummings 
Nov Poetry free-for-all     
14  Nov Sophia Kaszuba  8. poem/try à la tu  Kaszuba 
16  Nov Poetry free-for-all     
21  Nov Circle-poetry  9. Feature project proposal   
23  Nov Open session on feature works     
28  Nov Eric McCormack  10. short fiction à la McCormack  McCormack 
30  Nov Peer review    
Dec So long; thanks for all the fish Peer Review Memo; Voice journal   

General reading assignment Read and skim liberally among the mass of writing you see everyday, being particularly alert to issues of voice. The Globe and Mail is a good place to start, particularly since we will be discussing, and meeting, one of its writers (Renzetti), one of its editors (Cohen), and a free lancer who places a lot in its pages (Pevere) but any venue is fine: The New Yorker is great, Wired is style-rich, various Toronto Sun columnists (Fisher, Amiel) are good grist. Bring your thoughts on these materials to class for general discussion. 
One Short fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, in your own voice. Something youâve already written is fine, though you might want to polish it a bit, if needed.
Two A book review of What’s love got to do with it? Use the reviews in the course reader for models (800 words). In class, you will rewrite this review in Johnstonâs style.
Three An autobiographical non-fiction pop culture story in the manner of Hunter S. Thompson (1000 words).
Four A review of any current movie in the manner of Pevere (800 words).
Five A pop culture story in the manner of Renzetti (800 words).
Six Short fiction in the manner of Coupland (1000).
Seven A poem (or a few poems) in the manner of e. e. cummings  
(length is your own concern)
Eight A poem (or a few poems) in your own voice, or, if youâre feeling brave, in the manner of Kaszuba. (length is your own concern)
Nine A memo outlining your feature project, including where you will be submitting it for publication. 
Ten Short fiction in the manner of McCormack. (1000 words)
This will be a primarily stylistic/voice/persona analysis, of an author of your choice. You will need to tell the class a bit about context, but your main jobs are (1) to epitomize and evaluate the distinctive features that make up the authorâs voice, and (2) to suggest what elements of this voice you think can benefit your own writing, and the writing of the other students in class. Any author, in any genre, will be fine. But you should focus on at least one-book, or a series of essays, stories, poems, etc. (I.e., donât base your whole analysis on a couple of short stories or poems or magazine features.) 

(The presentation time will depend on enrollment, but will not exceed 15 minutes.)

Keep a journal about the authors we read, and any other authors you read who catch your eye/ear. You should have an entry for each of authors in our reading list (though you can concentrate on only author one for the book review readings), along with 2 or 3 more. Be concise (4-5 sentences per entry may be enough), but be precise. 
This is the main assignment of the term,?a feature story, essay, suite of poems, etc., intended for publication in a popular or literary journal. Word count is pretty free here, depending on the genre and medium of intended publication. But I am serious about the publication intention; you should be too. Include a memo outlining where you intend this piece to appear, and what characteristics it has that such an outlet might be interested in. 

Peer Reviewing

Working fictions

The Reviewer will read the work like an anal-retentive editor and work with the Reviewee on every conceivable aspect of the review?including, but not limited to, the categories outlined below?in a session that will take no more than forty minutes. Then you will change roles. For this process to work, it is critical that you both come to specific agreements about changes to the piece: make sure that every point of disagreement about the text comes to some form of closure.

With respect to all of these categories, please keep firmly mind your understanding of how the voice du jour (de la semaine) uses the elements of that category.

And keep in mind that rules can serve their best purpose if they are effectively broken, bent, or even mangled. But they can only serve that purpose if (1) the author knows the rule in the first place, (2) the author has a specific purpose in mind, and (3) the breaking, bending, or mangling clearly serves that purpose.

Correct, slap both wrists, and move on.
Watch in particular for unorthodox period and comma usage: if the author canât justify it, or (especially) isnât aware that the usage is unorthodox, it needs fixing. Other marks that tend to be abused are apostrophes, quotation marks, and parentheses. Some marks that tend to be overused are exclamation marks, dashes, and parentheses. One which tends to be under used (especially for compounds) is the hyphen.
Watch for unorthodox or awkward phrase groupings (nouns, rather than adjectives, modifying other nouns; adjectives, rather than adverbs, modifying verbs; stranded prepositions; etc.) and make sure they are justified: if the author canât justify the phrasing, or (especially) isnât aware that it is unorthodox, it needs fixing. Watch also for bad agreement, especially verbs than donât go with their subjects and pronouns without appropriate (or any) antecedents.
Are the words appropriate? Do they mean what the author wants them to mean? Do they mean the same thing (or anything at all) to the projected readers? Are there more appropriate words, ones with more resonance, punch, or directness? If there are neologisms, are they justified (clear to the reader, serving a purpose, not duplicating a word that already exists)? Is the morphology orthodox (and should it be, in the context)? Are the specialized terms (if any) defined (implicitly or explicitly) clearly?
Structure Sentence/line.
Do the words develop naturally into a proposition (or question, or command?whatever is appropriate)? Do the subordinate propositions support the main proposition naturally? Watch particularly for parallelism faults and for pointless word strings. Does every word in the sentence develop it in some way?
Do the sentences/lines develop naturally into a paragraph/stanza? In particular, is there a clear point to the stanza or paragraph (something either expressed or expressible in a topic sentence), and does every sentence/line serve that point?
Do the paragraphs/stanzas develop naturally into a coherent work. In particular, is there a clear point to the piece (something either expressed or expressible in a thesis statement), and does every paragraph/stanza serve that point. The two most important terms here are theme (that is, the thing expressible in a thesis statement) and plot (the and-then, and-then, and-then unfolding of events), which all texts have: these are not just terms which concern fiction.
Are the images sharp? Are they memorable? Do they serve a clear purpose?
Is the author's voice consistent? Does it suit the topic, the genre, and the venue of the piece? Can you describe that voice in a few short sentences?
Does the author have a clear grasp of audience? Is it consistent? Does it suit the topic, the genre, and the venue of the piece? Can you describe the authorâs sense of audience in a few short sentences?
Answer these questions by assigning a numerical value to the work.



I will evaluate your participation in class discussions by the familiar criteria: quantity and quality. Several relevant and helpful contributions per class will earn you an A+; regular silence and/or absenteeism will earn you an F-; contributions falling betwixt the twain will be graded betwixtly.
Peer Review
You will evaluate each otherâs peer-review contributions, which means you need to submit a memo on the last day of class commenting on and grading the people who have reviewed your work and discussed it with you. Your mark will come entirely from othersâ evaluation of your reviews, with one exception: if you do not hand in a memo, your peer-review mark will be F-.
The memo
Keep a record of everyone who discusses your work with you. Assign everyone a letter grade and write at least two sentences to justify that grade.
Writing Assignments
Treat them as a job: do them, and you get paid; not, and not. There will be no grade assigned to any of them individually. If you hand in all of them, you will get twenty unalloyed percentage points toward your final grade. Miss one, and you will get fifteen, alloyed, percentage points. Miss two or more, you get zero for this component of the course. I'm not kidding.
I will evaluate your analysis partially on presentation style but largely on the breadth and depth of your analysis: in particular, what are the features of this writer that you find distinctive, and how can you adapt (or, in a negative example, avoid) those features to improve your own work.

Voice Journal

I will evaluate your journal mostly on accuracy and perceptiveness, but also completeness. There should be, minimally, one entry for each of the topics of the course (i.e., one from the book review readings, one on Renzetti, one on Thompson, ...), but include a few other voices from your Îoutsideâ reading. The only format issue is legibility (if I canât read it, I canât evaluate it): use computer printouts, e-mail, long-hand, whatever, so long as youâre comfortable.

Note: keep this as a journal, with regular, dated, entries. You would be really nuts if you thought you could throw together something the night before itâs due.

Feature Work

Write good stuff, get a good mark.

Note: this work will not be marked at all without a covering memo explaining your intention to publish (and, especially, where). The publishing venue must be seriously considered. If it isnât, you will not have completed the course requirements, and you will receive a grade of INComplete; if, within one term, you have not found a suitable venue (or written something else, with the same requirements), your course mark will revert to F-. Iâm serious.