Teaching a Creative Writing Class

  How do you teach your students everything you want to?.

I’m very excited to report that as part of my grad school program, I’ll be teaching an intro creative writing class to undergraduates this coming fall. While it seems very far off, a draft of my syllabus is already due at the end of the month, and I’ve been panicking a little. I’ve been given complete control over what to teach and what to have my students read, and it leaves me wondering what theory I should put to use behind structuring my class. I’ve read so many wonderful short stories over the years, taken so many craft classes and workshops, and I’m finding it very difficult to narrow it down.

I’m feeling almost overwhelmed with questions. Should I alternate fiction with poetry (I must teach both) or have half of the semester be fiction then poetry? Should I lump all of an author’s stories together in one week, or split them up depending on what theme I want to teach that day? How will I find time to workshop everyone’s work? I’ve been feverishly poring over my bookshelf this past weekend, picking and choosing. Because this is an intro creative writing class, I want to give my students a firm background in the classics, so I’m beginning with some Chekhov, Poe, and Hemingway. But I want them to begin to see the magic of contemporary fiction, so I’m filling the syllabus with Lorrie Moore, John Updike and Larry Brown as well. (If you haven’t heard of Larry Brown, his story collection Big Bad Love is on my five star list).

It’s an interesting process, creating a syllabus. It’s almost like trying to structure a story: I want to take my students on a journey through literature across the semester, getting them excited, getting them talking. I’m feeling very daunted by the poetry requirement as well; I want to give them the classics, like Shakespeare and Yeats, but I want them to be able to see contemporary poetry and write it themselves. It’s a delicate balance to walk, and I’m beginning to experience what just about every teacher feels: there just is never enough time to teach everything you want to.

In future weeks and months as I plan more, I’ll be writing more about the process of teaching creative writing. I’ll keep you posted, readers, on what it actually feels like to lead a class in discussion, workshop their pieces, and see their writing begin to improve.


  1. Susie says:

    As a teacher myself (and granted, I teach the little guys), I know how easy it is to get overwhelmed, especially if you are given a literal whole world of resources to choose from! Decide what your Big Ideas are first, what you want the students to know, and choose your literature around those goals. Then you can bring in a selection of different pieces to illustrate each Big Idea, and you’re not tied into a particular author, time period, or genre. I’m excited for you–best of luck!

  2. Felicia says:

    As an avid reader who was left cold by some of the classics I was told to read in school, I would have the students explore more than one genre. If you spend a week looking at a certain theme, I would give them 5 different stories to choose from that all have that theme, but present them in different ways and settings. Just a suggestion, since people are so very diverse. I find that art suffers a great deal from narrowly defining what is ‘art’ to a single style or genre. Pop art might not be ‘classic’ but it is art. It takes talent, hard work and skill to create and someone out there thinks it is moving and lovely. A Sci-Fi story can just a well explore the question of what is is to be human as Moby Dick. But if someone just can’t appreciate Moby, they won’t get the underlying question the author is asking. But if they like Sci-Fi, they might see that question more readily in I-Robot. Just a thought.

  3. Kathy says:

    If I signed up for a creative writing course which I am considering in the near future, I would want to focus on writing not reading, classics or otherwise. I’d structure the course around writing outputs by students and let them select the genre, etc. This should spark creatively and thinking on teh students part. It is not a literature course, I would feel cheated if I took a course on writing and all I did was read other’s writing instead of doing my own.

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