We’re living through a turbulent time: a global pandemic, economic upheaval, climate change, cultural conflict, and many related hurdles lie before us. And we’re constantly reminded of this, via our immersive engagement with technologies designed to capture our attention (social media, in particular). It’s easy to be overwhelmed, or feel the urge to shut down, or retreat, or hide away and hope the whole thing will blow over. There’s a word in that last sentence: hope. It’s what we search for, and cling to, when our lives become unmanageable. It’s our last and most stalwart ally in times of stress. Hope stands with us when we feel alone, walks with us into the dark forest, carries us forward when we feel bereft and exhausted. To lose hope, finally, is to be truly at sea.

But hope is stubborn. "Hope dies last," as the tattoo says. We hold fast to hope. Or we shove it away and it comes back. Or we think we’ve lost it — but then we feel its warmth and presence within us. Hope accompanies us in our lives, throughout our lives, and can be a deeply sustaining force for us. When our hope is betrayed or shattered we can be deeply hurt and discouraged. When our hope is lost, then found again, we can find new meanings and purposes to usher us forward.

Hope is complex. It is not one thing. Perhaps it is one of the greatest gifts that we can offer one another, as Elie Weisel affirmed — but it can also be a maddening burden, the “worst of all evils” according to Friedrich Nietzsche. Perhaps Vaclav Havel said it best:

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.

What is good, for each one of us? What is the work that we can do to advance that good, for both ourselves and others? What does this look like, in our creativity and our daily lives? These are the kinds of questions we ask in this course. The readings that you undertake, the writing that you do, the self-awareness that you cultivate — all of these activities are focused, in this class, on how these might be informed and supported by hope.

Process and Projects

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 its (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: a Reading Project, a Writing Project, and a Self-Awareness Project. Please review the specific details of each project on their respective pages.

Due Dates

The basic schedule for project submissions is that a project is due at the end of each month. The first project is due at the end of the first month (September); the second project is due at the end of the second month (October), and the final project (the self-awareness assignment) is due at the end of the third month (November). That’s easy, right?

I strongly encourage you to follow this schedule – one assignment per month, for three months. However, you do not have to follow this schedule. Any project that you submit before the end of the final week of the third month 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: the end of every month. But you will not be penalized if you do not submit projects on those dates. You can submit your projects at any time up until the final day of the third month. Again; no penalties are involved. Everyone in the class has the right to delay the submission of projects up until the final day of the third month.

For the Fall 2021 semester, that final day is Tuesday, November 30.

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.

How best to avoid it? Use the monthly schedule shown below. It works. It’s there for a reason (and the reason is that many people are not good at scheduling). If something happens in your life and you are delayed in submitting a project, get it done as close to the monthly 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 monthly basis. The schedule is set up for you to do it that way. Don’t push the river.

Scheduled Dates and Final Deadline

First Monthly Project (Reading) — September 30
Second Monthly Project (Writing) — October 31
Third Monthly Project (Self-Awareness) — November 30
Final Deadline for all ProjectsNovember 30 (11:55 p.m.)

For further details, please review the specific sections for each assignment.

Submitting Projects

For the first two projects (the reading project and the writing project), you will create Lab pages: one page for each project. Working with web pages and modern writing and publishing workflows is a primary skill in contemporary creative writing. After all, writing is for sharing, right? The tools of modern web publishing have made this easier than ever, more seamless, and more powerful for writers seeking to be heard. Academic environments tend to cultivate the practice of writing for one person (the instructor); but creative writing is a tradition in which you cast your words into the world, as far as they can reach. Let's do that.

But a more open workflow has implications, among them this: the title of each of your Lab pages will be viewable by other members of our community. This is how modern web publishing workflows function. Others in the class will not be able to edit or view the content of any pages that you create (unless and until those pages are published; see below) — but others will be able to see that you have created pages: their titles will show up in the list of drafts. (If you are concerned about the title of a given page being visible to others before you are ready to share the contents, you are welcome to use a provisional title such as "Work in Progress." Just remember that each page you create will require a unique title.)

Your pages will not be viewable on the internet unless you decide to publish them (which only the instructor can actually do; see below). Each of your pages will have its own unique preview URL where you can see how the page would look if it were published.

When you are ready to submit a given project, you will click the option that says Submit to Review (available above Save Draft).

We will discuss this process in detail in class.

Publishing Pages

Publishing is not required for any pages that you create in the Lab. There are a variety of reasons why you might decide not to publish your pages, and the decision is yours alone. Or, you might decide to share your project with the wider world, on the open internet. In that case, you would request that the instructor publish your page. We will discuss this process in class. If you decide to request publication, any published pages will work just the same as all the other web pages you are familiar with: open, public, shareable.

The content and structure of these pages are completely up to you. Naturally, web pages tend to be more engaging if images (and/or videos) are embedded within them, and we will discuss this in class.

Published pages will remain published until the end of the semester or until you request that a page authored by you be unpublished. You may also request that a given page remain published after the semester.

For further information, please review Should You Publish Your Page?

The Self-Awareness Project

The final project — the self-awareness project — is a more personal project and does not belong in the public sphere. So, you do not create a Lab page for your self-awareness project. Instead, you send that final project to me, via email.

Multiple Submissions

You can submit any project for moderation as many times as you like — until the final deadline. In fact, I encourage you to submit your projects more than once. Writing is an iterative process, after all, and later drafts are often better than previous ones (especially if you ask for feedback on these drafts). I will review each new draft that you send — until the final deadline. Typically, your grade will improve after each draft (provided you ask for feedback and that you are attentive to it). Once the final deadline has passed, the project submission period is closed and you will no longer be able to send new drafts. This also means that you will not be able to improve your grade on a project after the final deadline has passed.

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 — especially on a public platform such as this. 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.

Asking for Help

People are different. Some like to learn on their own, others prefer direct and ongoing support, and there is, of course, a wide range in between. You are free to approach this course in the manner that suits you best. If I don’t hear from you, I will assume that you are working happily away, reading, composing, and getting things done. If you ask for help or feedback, I will try to be as helpful as I can.

Hope is like peace. It is a gift only we can give to one another.