Monday, April 18, 2011

Week 14: Last Week of Blog Posting

Hello class! I'm sad to say, this week marks your final week in preparing creative nonfiction for blog posts. Next week, you'll visit your group members' blogs once more for review, but this week, you finish with your assignment routine. As you successfully finish out this course, scan the pages and pages of writing that you've posted to your blog. Your lives are rich books, aren't they? I hope you are as impressed by what you've accomplished as I am. Consider keeping your blogs and continuing to write for writing's sake... or at least, save a copy of your precious writing on your computer or in print. Read it a year from now, five years from now, or even further down the road and impress yourselves with the knowledge that you always were, and continue to be, an original and extraordinary being. Consider sharing your writing. Share with someone you're close to, or send your best writing out to be considered for publication. Continue writing. Consider enrolling in more writing classes during your college career, or organize a writer's circle. For the purposes of this course, I'll ask you to keep your blogs up and running at least until final grades are posted. After that, it's up to you! Next week, we'll focus on drafts of final essays. You could begin writing a rough draft as early as you'd like, and you're welcome to see me for assistance. This is my final post to the class blog site, as next week, you'll turn your focus to Blackboard for work on the Final Essay. It's been a pleasure to work with all of you. You've kept me delighted throughout the semester with heartfelt and evocative writing. I couldn't be more appreciative if I'd known you all in-person in a traditional classroom... you've truly shared yourselves with me and with each other, and for that, I'm very lucky. Make this week the best yet. With gratitude and appreciation for your fine work as writers, Amisha GREAT HITS Directions: Stay on this page and scroll til your entire list of classmates is visible on the screen. Close your eyes. Ramdomly touch your screen. Open your eyes. Drag your finger to a name directly to the right, or closest to your finger. Visit this writer's blog. Enjoy! WRITING TIP OF THE WEEK Writers Plan Goals and Rewards Upon successfully finishing this course, you have created more writing than most professional writers do in the span of 4 months. You have accomplished creating an entire portfolio of stories, any one of which could be revised to a publishable standard and shared through print media, revised as a screenplay, interpreted as dance, song, or otherwise. Trust me... you deserve a reward. What will your reward for finishing your writing goal be? Start thinking about the perfect reward for your accomplishments now... and don't forget to reward yourself promptly when the semester ends out. (Confused about what to reward yourself? Send me an email with your mailing address for mid-May and I will happily mail you a mix CD.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Week 13: Ending Out the Semester

Hi class Welcome to the final few weeks of the semester! This week and next, you'll continue onwards with blog posting, reviewing, and reading & writing Writer's Journal posts. After that, you'll begin work on your Final Project. I call your attention to that project now so that those of you with busy schedules or perfectionist tendencies can start working in advance. You'll find details about your Final Essay under "Tuesday, April 26th" on your Course Calendar. If any of you would like to schedule an appointment with me for assistance/feedback on rough drafts of your final essay, please schedule early. The final few weeks are busiest with student appointments, and I'd like to do my best to get everyone in who wants to meet. Optionally, I can meet off campus in Scottsdale (at a coffee shop) more easily than on campus in Tempe. This is also a good time for you to review grades, should you have any questions. I look forward to seeing some more fantastic writing on your blogs this week, and I encourage you to check out last week's Great Hits. :-) See, also, a new Writing Tip of the Week below. Happy writing! -AP GREAT HITS! Miranda's "Happiness and Health" In this post, Miranda successfully creates the feel of ongoing, repeated action. That is not an easy thing to do, yet Miranda's particular voice as a writer lends itself to reflection of this sort. She describes an event where she and other students eat out as a matter of routine, breaking from their work at the studio. The tone of this account draws in her readers and allows us to feel included. I especially love the shift from scene to reflection in paragraph two. The second part of this post reveals a thoughtful, humanitarian psyche that can, at one and the same time, enjoy and appreciate a meal while considering the struggles of others. Both the tone, and feeling, resemble prayer. It's beautiful, Miranda. Thanks for sharing with us! Rebecca's "No Need for White Chocolate" This post is one of my favorite stories posted by Rebecca in this course. It's wonderful thanks to the subject matter itself, but also thanks to the great writerly choices Rebecca made. She did an excellent job "showing" the scene as opposed to telling us what to think or believe based on her own emotions or assumptions. The story is at once nostalgic, funny, and heartbreaking. We get introduced to a scenario that is wholly "high-school" era, where social acceptance is the heartbeat of everything else we strive to experience. We all have those moments of being rejected, yet they tend to be amongst the hardest moments to tell others about. I'm impressed then, that Rebecca did it so well. Excellent work! :-) Skylar's "Order in the Court" I am amazed by how this class uses their writing to go beyond the personal or interesting events from their lives to successfully write about topics of societal import. Skylar's post, "Order in the Court", is a prime example of that. Her masterful use of dialogue allows her to forefront keen political opinions with personal experience and an evocative scene. Eventually, she reveals what's at stake for her in sharing this story. She writes, "The judge was nothing but a robotic hammer, just doing her job, but without human capacities: no empathy, no compassion, no understanding. Is there no mercy for what people need? Why is it the innocent have to spend time away from their lives to judge the incompetent, the law-breakers, the unhappy, the unjust? Isn't that injustice?" Congratulations, Skylar, for making ideas as beautiful and lyric as songs are. Great work on this post! Leena's "Sleep Walkers" In Leena's post, "Sleep Walkers", we watch a familiar scene: a study group of students (who could be anyone, anywhere) during an iconic late-night study session. I love the ambiguity of who the people are in the context of this scene, since there's a sense of universality to the experience. The ambiguity about characters also lends itself to the feeling of "sleep walkers", which is redefined, here, in the context of students who stay up way too late in preparation for an exam. Wonderful work with this post, Leena! I'm sure many of your classmates can see themselves in the mirror of your writing. :-) Writing Tip of the Week How to Title Your Writing One of the most difficult responsibilities of writing essays and stories is coming up with great titles. It's also one of the most important responsibilities. Titles create interest for readers, set moods, and set up major themes. They also work to specify topics and to argue. A great title is not unlike a great song name. It serves to locate one particular unit of creative work as independant, complete, and beautiful. Essays and stories without titles are like babies without names. Remember to name your babies wisely and intentionally. There are no fixed rules for Title writing, but you can learn a lot about effective titles by reading published work and seeing what professional writers do. Often, a particularly central subject is picked out and highlighted ("The A Train", "Birds at Night", "Cedar Falls"), and other times, a theme is highlighted ("Men Who Talk", "The Importance of Eating Breakfast", "Marriage Before 20"). Regardless, precision and specificity are of the utmost importance. A tip that I give to students who have trouble writing titles is, write a list of ten possible titles and then pick the best one. Another tip I give writers is to have other readers review your work and weigh in on title possibilities. In this class, it's possible for you to ask peer reviewers to suggest titles during their feedback of your writing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Week 12: One of My Favorite Writers is Denis Johnson

Hello class! In reviewing this week's assignment checklist, I was excited to see you're due to read a piece by Denis Johnson. He is a writer of fantastic imagination and intensity. Enjoy the reading, and enjoy the other assignments for the week! I look forward to seeing your new work. Read on to review some of Week 11's "Great Hits". (I stopped using the phrase "Greatest Hits" when it became apparent that all of you were producing heartfelt, inspiring work. Now, I'm just cycling through groups of writers to acknowledge your fabulosity as a matter of routine.) Also, look for a new Writing Tip at the bottom of this post. Best of luck as you continue to write! Enjoy this beautiful Spring weather, too! -AP GREAT HITS Kimberley's "Interviewing Universally - 'Boldly Going Where No Man Has Gone Before...'" In opening this post, Kimberley writes, "In the world of Sci-Fi geekdom, he can be considered an anomaly - or worse - a heretic." This introductory line, as well as the following writing, results in an amazing article about the choice to love BOTH Star Wars and Star Trek. Kim profiles a man named Alexander, who claims to love both series, and explains exactly why. Best of all is Kim's treatment of this subject matter. Whereas she takes it seriously enough to thoroughly examine it, she creates humor by exaggerating the social consequences. Excellent work, Kim! Nynn's, "Yummy Goodness" This post is so much fun to read! I love Nynn's description of a comfortable Happy Hour scenario where attention is paid to the drink itself. So often, bar scenes have little to nothing to do with the love of a good drink, but in this post, Nynn describes appreciation for something delicious. I especially like the context that Nynn gives us. Knowing that she doesn't know much about alcohol allows us to feel a sense of innocence and joy in reading that we otherwise may not. Great job, Nynn! Matt's, "Reflections of a Once and Former Randian" Thank you, Matt, for coining the new word "Assholiness". :-) This is a great example of writing that develops a coherant rant. Rather than trying to prove his opinions, Matt allowed himself the dignity of authentic, uncensored expression. Because he expressed his opinions in the context of storytelling, they have more appeal, regardless of readers' personal opinions about political topics that Matt discussed. I also appreciate Matt's ability to reflect on another piece of literature in a descriptive and clear way, as a way to develop his theme. Thanks for a wonderful post, Matt! Writing Tip of the Week Read, Read, & Read Some More Some of you may wonder why reading examples of personal essays in your textbook is such a routine part of our coursework. I could imagine it's much more enjoyable to write something of your own than to read and reflect in your Writer's Journal. The reason why you're asked to read is because reading is an essential tool of writing. Writers read a lot. We read so we can learn from other writers, stay inspired, and develop our vocabularies and imaginations. If this week, or any other week, you have "Writer's Block" when you sit down to write your posts, consider reading as a part of the writing process. Pick up a book by one of the writers you've enjoyed reading in your text, or email me for suggestions, and go back to your writing with fresh eyes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Week 11: Great Hits!

Hello class You submitted some fantastic work last week. :-) Continue on with your reading and writing, and check out the following posts by your classmates. Week 11: Great Hits Jesse's "There's Always Money in the Banana Stand" Jesse's voice in his writing is so familiar to us at this point in the semester, yet still so effective. His original, yet consistent, style allows for all of his posts to feel as though they are scenes from a single "movie" or book. I love this post. In it, Jesse describes a scene with a friend he'd rather not be seeing. Rather than coming off as a judgmental, Jesse creates a thoughtful persona which depicts well his own vulnerability in the situation. It's an observant, efficiently written, beautifully edited post about being the odd-guy out in an unsavory situation. Excellent work, Jesse! John's "Unusual Place" prompt response The richness of detail in this post makes John's "unusual place" come to life. And it certainly is unusual, if not for the fact that John's ability to guide us through this space makes it feel extraordinarily normal. He is a witness to our prison system. Writing about a subject like this one is not just interesting, it's important. I think of other effective guides in literature... Plato, guiding us through Socrates' dialogues, or Virgil leading us through Dante's "Inferno"... John has a similar presence in the prison landscape. You did a wonderful job, John. Katie's, "The Inescapable" I love the scene created in this post! It is accessible, especially for students, because nervousness before/during classroom presentations is such a familiar feeling. (I feel it, too... every time I teach. I tell students that their general facial expressions range between the looks of boredom and hatred in an effort to get them to lighten up. It doesn't really work.) I also love the introductory line: "Many things make me uncomfortable." Beginning with this type of opening paragraph allows readers to feel a sense of closeness and friendliness with the writer. This is a great feeling to create. This post is one of your best, Katie. Great work! Kayla's "Lunch Time and the Anxious Consumer" Like Katie's post, Kayla's is another scene that's accessible, familiar, descriptive, and loveable for those reasons. In it, she develops a considerate characterization about the anxiety of lunchtime. It works well for readers because the "you" address allows us to project certain personal anxieties into the scene described, and because it allows Kayla to get away with a gorgeous set of final lines: "You are the anxious consumer - I understand. Every lunch time, I'm right there with you." Thanks for sharing this, Kayla! This is a great post! Writing Tip of the Week What Helps You Write? Just as it's useful to reflect on craft, style, and topics as you pursue your writing, it's also tremendously useful to think about what helps you write. For instance, it's difficult for me to step away from my writing once I start, so I do best if I eat before I write. That way, even if I refuse to step away from my laptop, my eyes don't start getting blurry from lack of nutrients as one, two, three, or even four hours pass me by. One of my writer friends once threw his back out because he was sitting at his computer too much while writing a novel. Sometimes it's important to stretch, drink water, go for a walk, or otherwise. Think about what things help you to write. Does it help you to talk out an idea with a friend before you type anything out? Does it help you to take a shower, turn off your cellphone, light a candle, smell a peach, stare at a lampshade, or turn on the television? Does it help you to work in silence, or in a busy coffee shop? Creating the best scenarios for yourself as a writer will help to make writing feel less like work and more like the treat that it is. Happy Writing! :-) -AP

Monday, March 21, 2011

Week 10: Welcome Back from Spring Break

Hi Class,

Welcome back!

This week, you'll continue on with course assignments listed under the "Week 10 Checklist" on your course calendar.

Keep in mind that I'm available to assist you as you continue to write and complete work for this class... be in touch if you'd like to schedule a meeting, or if you'd like to check in on grades.

Happy writing!

Writing Tip of the Week
Don't Be Afraid to Write What's Real

Authenticity is one of the most likeable traits of excellent nonfiction writing. Readers love to feel that their writer is reliable, honest, and true-to-life in their depictions and persona. Because of that, it's important that you maintain a sense of who you are as you write about your life. There's no need to write like anyone but yourself, and no need to water down the language of characters that appear in your writing. Eventually, you'll learn to pare down excess on your own, or thanks to the advice of your readers and editors. If you do feel insecure about whether your topics, ideas, or language are offensive or otherwise problematic, feel free to check in with me and receive some feedback.

Great Hits from Week 8

Alyssa's "The Art of Persuasion"

Alyssa's tone in "The Art of Persuasion" created a sense of irony and satire that made this post delightful to read. The language in this post is objective and academic, yet the points themselves are humorous in context. I don't think we've seen satirical writing in this class yet, so it's exciting to read a first example. I especially love her point that persuasion is decidedly "Un-American". That claim is often thrown around in political arguments in ambiguous and emotional ways, so in this piece, it stands out as particularly satirical and funny. Well done, Alyssa!

Brandon's "Calm Persuasion: Don't Panic"

This post goes in so many directions that I had to re-read it three times... however, it's very amusing. I'd like to point out the potential that can arise out of this sort of unhibited freewriting. Towards the beginning of this post, Brandon reveals an opportunity to analyze the effects of the phrase "Don't Panic" in an original and associative way. Towards the end of the post, we are given an opportunity to meditate on the virtues of zombies. Where else do we get original topics like these if not through free-writing? :-) I could see Brandon taking any one of the ideas from this post and developing it into a quirky and fun final essay. Great work, Brandon!

Chelsee's "Hey Father..."

A few weeks ago, we read Chelsee's story about meeting her biological father for the first time. In this post, she develops just one aspect of the previous story into a vivid scene. We can appreciate the further developed characterization, and even the great photo at the end of the piece. Best of all, we have an opportunity to "hear" voices. Reading dialogue spoken by Chelsee's father allows us to get to know him even more thoroughly. It's an enjoyable post to read. Thanks, Chelsee!

Jamie's "One of Those Talks"

I'm impressed with Jamie's ability to turn dialogue into a sufficient story, with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Whereas the topic of the scene isn't necessarily original, her style of writing creates renewed interest. I like Jamie's lack of description as to context, character, setting, etc. There's a sense that the dialogue itself is sufficient, and that the reconciliation resolves the conflict of the piece enough to provide closure. Good job, Jamie!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Week 8: New Writers' Groups

Hi class!

Midway through the semester, I'm amazed by the pages and pages of writing you've created. Your Writer's Journals are packed with reflections about great examples of published creative nonfiction, and your blogs are full of stories, memories, thoughts, and ideas. I'm also grateful that you've connected so well in group response! This week, you'll meet even more of your wonderful classmates. Congratulations: these are the folks you're lucky enough to work with through the end of the semester. Enjoy it!!

Writing Tip of the Week:
Choosing Great Topics

You may have noticed, while reading Susan Orlean, that nonfiction essays are not always personal to the self, or modified by personal opinion. Sometimes, great topics are the ones we discover, which have nothing at all to do with us. Having a certain degree of objectivity can give us an advantage as we write... whereas subjects we're close to can sometimes be harder to tell (because it's difficult to leave details out, or tedious to write all details in), it can be much easier to manage sufficiency of information and detail (without over- or under-doing it) when relating topics that are less personal to us. For instance, Orlean has also written about orchid hunting, taxidermy, and what the life of a ten year old boy is like. What are some topics you'd like to explore? Are there any that are, perhaps, less personal to you, that engage you all the same? Widening your field of possibilities as you consider topics gives you an opportunity to speak, without always speaking about yourself. This can be a relief to writers of personal essays!

Here are some phenomenal single lines from your writing.

Alyssa: "[The bar] is like a good date: low-key, inexpensive, and care-free."

Brandon: "[When the gates open], it's like popping a balloon; all of the pressure is expelled and people walk freely to the security checkpoints."

Chelsee: "Arizona State University sold their bookstore to an outside company for many reasons that I am too low on the pay scale to know."

Jamie: "You think you've got freeways where you come from? You should see the ones we have here."

Jesus: "I hate social gatherings because whenever I'm surrounded by people, I imagine that everyone has come together to celebrate my accomplishments, and I always end up leaving dissappointed, no accolades to show for my exhausting efforts at socialization."

John: "This writing is supposed to focus on others per the assignment directions but I must briefly describe my heroic measures."

Katie: "Before me sat an old and rough looking man. Tattered clothes, dirt stains, and a rainbow of paint stuck to him."

Kayla: "We had just come from mini-golfing, and Mike had proven to us all that baseball wasn't the only sport you can strike out in."

Kimberly: "To offer a perspective of the size and scope of Comic-Con... the widely publicized 2008 Democratic National Convention, held in Denver, and the Republican Convention, held in Minneapolis... drew crowds of approximately 50,000 visitors each. Comic-con annually draws two and a half times this many visitors."

Nynn: "Now I have to admit, when I orginally though of NASCAR, I thought of rednecks and beer as well as Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights..."

Matt: "The circus of vice was capped by an electric sky."

Miranda: "... as of late, [Rhianna] seems to be forcing her strength rather than actually finding it."

Nicola: "With my family there has never been enough men to do a lot of the hauling of the water or the chopping of the wood or gathering of the coal."

Rebecca: "Upon entering Rawhide, there is not much to see. One kicks up thick patches of dirt and first sees a board that is used for throwing knives, but never seems to be in use."

Skylar: "Not until I made this decision to grow up did I realize just how much I needed to grow up."

Leena: "From the eight row up, I can hardly see the teacher's aid and the professor, let alone what they choose to be pertinent information that goes up on the white board with a dying white-erase marker."

Great work, everyone!

Continue on with your calendar this week, and afterwards, have a very happy Spring Break!


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Week 7: Finalizing Midterm Essays & Onwards!

May your essays grow all the roots, leaves, and branches they need to become a perfect expression of yourselves. Good luck with revision!

Hello class,

It was a pleasure to read your rough drafts! I've finished offering my own review of all of your writing, and hope the notes you receive from me and others assist you to finalize your essay. Finish these up and post to the Final Drafts forum on Blackboard by Tuesday night. This essay is worth 20% of your final grade.

This week, you'll read writing by three of the most famous contemporary nonfiction writers: Dave Eggers, Susan Orlean, and Norman Mailer. You'll also complete two writing prompts: one for Tuesday, one for Thursday.

Next week, you'll be introduced to new peer groups. These will be the writers you work with through the close of the semester. I'll be matching you based on a sense of who might benefit from working together, and to that end, if any of you have requests about who you'd like to work with this time around, feel free to email me and let me know. I'll do my best to accomodate your requests.

Also, since we're about midway through the semester, feel free to email me for requests of mailed grade sheets (include a mailing address). I can photocopy your grade sheets and mail them off after midterm essays have been graded.

Happy Writing!