Behind the Scenes
MFA fiction workshop syllabus
So, I’m teaching my first MFA fiction workshop this spring, which is exciting and pretty cool. I’ve decided to play with the traditional workshop model, which is two submitted stories per term. Here’s the syllabus.
ENGL 574 Syllabus
COURSE DESCRIPTION: This will be an intensive graduate workshop. I am working with a different model, one that emphasizes both generative practices and revision. You will be required to write three new stories very quickly (during the first nine weeks of class), which we will workshop, then we’ll spend the last five weeks of class workshopping one revision. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that we will be “flying” through the stories in the first part in order to focus our time on the revision.
COURSE GOALS: Part of the challenge of being a successful writer is writing under deadline. As you gain recognition as a writer, journals will begin soliciting your work. Editors and agents will require that you work efficiently. This class is modeled on your future success. As such, you will generate three new stories: one every three weeks, which will be workshopped very quickly.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of being a successful writer is knowing how and when and what to revise. The last third of the semester, we will workshop a revision of one of the stories submitted. For the revision, I will not accept line edits alone. I would like structural changes. Especially because you are generating these stories at perhaps a more rapid pace than you would otherwise write, I understand that they will not be the “cleanest” stories. Hence, the revision workshop.
Because this class is so writing intensive, I am not requiring any additional readings for class, but writing is about much more than just writing in a vacuum. You have to participate in a larger conversation. For your final portfolio, you are required to write three book reviews, responses to eight literary journals, and four community activities. (More on this later.)
FINAL PORTFOLIO: Rather than have you write or revise even more, your final portfolio will reflect your involvement in the writing world. Your portfolio will contain: three book reviews, responses to eight literary journals, and responses to four cultural activities, two of which should not occur on campus.
Book Reviews: as a rough template, please see the attachment for The Review of Contemporary Fiction’s book review guidelines. Every review venue has different requirements. If you would like to submit your review for publication at another venue, please use that journal’s guidelines and in your portfolio, give me a copy of what they want. The books you review must have been published no earlier than 2010.
Literary Journals: This can be print or online, but the point is that you start becoming conversant in what journals are publishing right now! Responses can be brief, but I want to know what you think about what you read, what the journal’s aesthetic is, etc. You should see this as an opportunity to gain knowledge about future publication options.
Cultural Activities: This can be readings, art openings, indie films, etc. Most of you know I am pretty lax about what constitutes a cultural activity.
GRADE BREAKDOWN: No one here needs to worry about grades, unless you don’t come to class, don’t do your work, or don’t talk. But here it is anyway:
Final Portfolio 50%
Participation includes attendance and an active engagement with the workshop. It also includes the work you submit, both stories and notes to other workshop members. Don’t be late.
CALENDAR BREAKDOWN: Because this is a workshop and we’re not reading anything, I’m not giving you a silly blank sheet of paper with empty slots. Here’s the way we’re running it:
Weeks 1-9: We will workshop five stories per week. You will need to write a new story every three weeks. You will submit your story to us electronically one week before it is to be workshopped.
Week 10 (4/2): Conferences
Weeks 11-15: Revision workshops, three per class. Again, you will submit your story electronically one week before it is to be workshopped.
ENDNOTES: Given the brisk nature of our workshops this semester, I don’t want to kill you with endnote work. So, this is what I expect on manuscripts: detailed and smart line edits and marginalia. I want very concise endnotes, more of an outline of what works and what doesn’t. (At the bare minimum, I expect three things that work and five suggestions, on a macro-level, for the revision process.) I will not accept banal comments like:
I like your characters, or
Your pacing is off, or
Nice descriptions, etc.
These are things that can go in your marginalia. I want macro-level comments and suggestions in your endnotes. This is a graduate workshop. If you don’t know what this means, I suggest you go buy a book on fiction.
CLASSROOM ETIQUETTE: I will not tolerate impolite behavior in the classroom or on the manuscript. Period. If I find your behavior inappropriate, I will ask you to withdraw from the class. This classroom will be a safe space for people to write whatever they want. The stories submitted may or may not fit your aesthetic. Get over it. I expect endnotes and comments to reflect what the writer wants from her story, not what you would do if you were the author.
OFFICE HOURS: Come.