Writing is a deep skill – the type of skill that is complex, diverse, and personally challenging. As with all deep skills, learning to write well is hard. There are so many factors that contribute to skill development, so many things to consider, so much diversity in the forms of writing. It doesn’t even make sense to think of writing as a single skill. Rather it’s a weaving together of many skills: creativity, craft, knowledge, self-awareness, drive, discipline, persistence, judgment, people skills, and so on. Because writing is a form of communication, it’s wrapped up with the complexities of human interactions and relationships. Learning to write well is not simply about mastering the elements of grammar – in fact, grammatical mastery is one of the least important skills in writing. Sure, it’s good to know the difference between its and it’s (to use the most common grammatical error as an example), but it’s not nearly as important as finding your voice, or connecting to your subject, or doing the introspective work to explore what your writing means to you and what it might mean to those who read your work.
Within all the disciplines of deep skill, there are ongoing debates about how best to learn. In music, which instrument should you study first, or which style of music? In dance, should you start with ballet or bhangra? In physics, should you first study foundations or applications? In politics, should you start with local or global? You get the idea. Complex subjects are complex, and there is no single correct way to approach them. The same goes for writing. You could start with linguistics, or grammar, or theory, or forms, or the creative process (which is where we start, in these courses), or any number of interesting points of entry. Eventually, they would all take you to the same place: greater skill. But, with writing, no matter which path you choose, you will still do three things: reading, writing, and reflection. You would explore the literature of your particular approach (the literature of forms, or literary theory, or the philosophy of creativity); you would write in the style of your particular approach (writing in specific forms, or writing theory, or writing in a philosophical way); and you would reflect – think, feel, wonder – about what it all means and how to keep going.
Read. Write. Reflect. These are the activities involved in developing the skill of writing. If you want to improve your writing, do those three things.
Guess what? You have three projects:
Please review the specific details of each project on their respective pages, as well as the weekly reminders.
The basic schedule for project submissions is that a project is due every few weeks. However, you do not have to follow this schedule. Any project that you submit before the final deadline will be graded.
Let’s review and confirm: there are no fixed due dates and no penalties for late projects in this class. There are suggested due dates, and there is a final deadline by which everything is due. You can submit your projects at any time up until the final deadline. Everyone in the class has the right to delay the submission of projects up until the final day (but not beyond).
That final day is Tuesday, April 9.
What happens if the final day passes and you still have not submitted all projects? You will get zero on the projects you have not submitted.
Ideas and practices regarding due dates and late penalties are legacies of a traditional educational structure that focuses on compliance and control. These traditions do not encourage creativity, and they are not sensitive to the diversity of human experience. Life happens. Sometimes things take more time, or less time, than you imagine. In this class I acknowledge the dynamic character of learning, which in turn entails that I also recognize the fundamentally problematic nature of due dates and late penalties.
This all might sound great, and I hope that the scheduling flexibility afforded you in this course works well for you. My goal in doing this is to facilitate a more fluid approach to creative work. But I also offer a cautionary note: every semester there are students who miss the final deadline and fail the course as a result. Freedom has consequences. If you miss the final submission date, there will be no further discussion about due dates and timelines. You will forfeit grades for whatever is incomplete. Try to avoid this situation.
If something happens in your life and you are delayed in submitting a project, get it done as close to the proposed schedule as you can. You won’t be penalized. If you get stuck, ask for help.
Whatever you do, don’t plan on submitting everything at the end. That is a terrible strategy. It will probably result in you failing or dropping out of the course. Instead, work consistently in this class. The projects are entirely doable on a (roughly) monthly basis. The schedule is set up for you to do it that way. Don’t push the river.
For further details, please review the specific sections for each assignment.
Upload each project to the Moodle assignment page for that project. Be sure to include your name in the project file, ideally on a title page.
Writing is an iterative process, and later drafts are often better than previous ones (especially if you are attentive to feedback). To encourage iteration and improvement, you are welcome to submit any project as many times as you like — up until two weeks before the final deadline for projects (at which point the deadline is too close for further project reviews by the instructor and effective responses by the learner).
Multiple submissions require the learner to engage with the feedback process. For further details, please review the feedback page. Asking about the projected grade for the draft of a given project is reasonable as part of a request for feedback (as outlined on the feedback page). However, please do not simply ask about projected grades. Consult the Feedback page for details about how to ask for feedback and how to use it.
A Note of Caution
You can write about anything you want. But please consider that any subject that is challenging for you to talk about openly (such as personal trauma) is a subject you should probably not write about. On the other hand, powerful personal experiences often provide excellent source material for writing, so it may be difficult for you to decide what to do. First, please use your judgment about how best to keep yourself emotionally safe within and beyond the classroom. Second, please discuss your plans (or your concerns) with me if you decide to write about personal or provocative subjects. In particular, be cautious of subjects involving violence, abuse, trauma, death, mental illness, and related themes (whether they happened to you, happened to someone else, or are imagined). These subjects reliably activate strong emotions and are often unsafe if not handled properly. While no subject is absolutely off-limits in this class, there are many subjects for which there is a risk of harm to you, to me, to others in the class, or to our shared communities. We must be respectful and careful of ourselves and our relationships with others. Please ask me for guidance if you are uncertain.
How to Ask for Feedback?
Send your feedback request via email to the instructor. Please note that feedback requests must be received at least 2 weeks before the final deadline.
Not Asking for Feedback
If you do not ask for feedback, you will not receive written feedback on your projects. For some learners, that’s perfectly fine; they just want to know their grade. No problem. Whether you ask for feedback or not, you will receive a grade on each project that you submit. For further details, please review the feedback page.