What interests us

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ENG 90: Fiction for Freshmen


Instructor: Harriet Clark


Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 3:15-4:30, building 460, room 210

The only choice I make is to write about what interests me in a way that interests me, that gives me pleasure. It may not look like pleasure, because the difficulties can make me morose and distracted, but that’s what it is—the pleasure of telling the story I mean to tell as wholly as I can tell it, of finding out in fact what that story is, by working around the different ways of telling it.”

—Alice Munro

Writing about what interests you in a way that interests you—that is the goal of everything we’ll do in this course. We’ll work together to figure out what stories you want to tell, how you want to tell them, and how you can call upon the elements of craft—character, dialogue, description, plot—in order to achieve this. By learning how to read and analyze stories from a writer’s viewpoint, you’ll discover how the whole history of literature can be put in service of your own work. You’ll do writing exercises that develop specific craft skills. You’ll draft your own full-length story. And then—after this draft has been constructively discussed by your classmates—you’ll sit down and re-envision the piece from start to finish. You will be students in a class—a class that is very reading and writing intensive—but you will, first and foremost, be writers in a workshop, a community of authors and readers willing to support each other, challenge each other, and bring each other back to the page again and again.
  • Course reader: $49; readers will be delivered on the first and second days of class; please have ready forty-nine dollars in cash or a check made out to Copy America.

  • Notebook and folder reserved for this class only.

  • Midway through the quarter you will need to provide photocopies of your story for everyone in the class—approximately 16 copies—so please budget for this expense. You will also need access to a printer throughout the quarter.


Class participation (30%):

  • Perhaps more than any other class, a workshop is very much a get-what-you-give type of course. When you put yourself out there in a personal way—as you do whenever you share your work—you want and deserve true engagement and respectful feedback from everyone. For your sake and the sake of your classmates, consistently consider what kind of contribution you’re making to our workshop community. It is crucial that you arrive at each class prepared and ready to actively participate in our discussions. This includes having read the work assigned and having read it in an engaged and open manner. Keep in mind that questions always count as contributions to the discussion. After we do writing exercises in class, I might call upon people to share their work. I want this class to be a space where you feel comfortable sharing but if, once or twice in the quarter, you do not want to share, feel free to say so. My goal is for the atmosphere in this class to feel cooperative, supportive, challenging, and fun.

Fiction exercises and first draft of a complete story (25%):

  • I will assign brief (1-3 page) writing exercises related to each craft element we study in class, about eight total over the course of the quarter. These exercises will develop and sharpen your skills, preparing you to draft and revise a complete short story.
  • The first draft of your story (8-20 pages) will be due on Tuesday, April 29th (or thereabouts, depending on the number of students in the class); you’ll bring in copies for every member of the class.

Revision and Process Paper (20%):

  • It is rare for the author of a first draft to know what exactly they’re writing about or how to most effectively structure the material. For this reason, we will focus a lot of our energy in this course on revision—not refining what you’ve already written but allowing yourself to re-envision it entirely. It may turn out that your story should start where it initially ended; it may turn out that a secondary character is more interesting to you than your primary character. A true revision requires openness, bravery, curiosity, and perseverance. It can also require community; in this instance, you will incorporate feedback you received in workshop and in your classmates’ written comments.

  • To facilitate and document your engagement with the revision process, you will hand in a one-to-two-page paper at the end of the quarter in which you discuss the following questions: (1) why you chose to revise your story as you did, including what specific advice from workshop proved helpful to you, (2) what you have learned about your writing process and how you have grown as a writer, (3) what you still want to learn and how you plan to keep developing as a writer. Please hold on to all work completed throughout the quarter, including rough drafts, notes, and each stage of your revision, as these will help you in considering such concerns.

Written critiques (20%):
  • Deeply engaging with your classmates’ work can be as beneficial to your writing as having your own work discussed. Think of your workshop letter as a note to the author from another author involved in the same struggle to create well-crafted stories. Constructive feedback, at its best, makes an author excited to return to their work.

Reading attendance (5%):

  • Attendance at three readings in the Creative Writing program is required. You don’t need to write a reaction to the readings, but I do need to see you there. I’ll announce these readings in class as they come up, but a full list can be found at http://creativewriting.stanford.edu and http://events.stanford.edu.

  • Please also sign up for the Creative Writing Events Listserve by going to http://mailman.stanford.edu and joining “cw-undergrad”. Also visit our Program blog at http://cwblog.stanford.edu or http://allthelivelittlethings.blogspot.com


  • Attendance/Lateness: Due to the collaborative nature of this class, attendance is key. You are allowed two absences. Thereafter, your grade for the course will drop a half-letter with each unexcused absence. Excused absences require official documentation (e.g. a medical note, University Activities notice, etc). If you know ahead of time that you will be unable to attend class, tell me in advance. Please exchange email addresses with a couple of your classmates so that if you do miss class you will be able to return prepared with any work assigned in your absence. Out of respect for your classmates and me, please be on time. If you are more than ten minutes late to class, you will be given a make-up assignment (see below). Repeated tardiness within ten minutes of class will also affect your grade.

  • Late assignments: The highest grade any late assignment will receive is a C/check minus, even if you’ve just forgotten to print it out for class. Assignments cannot be emailed to me; they must be turned in on paper. Late assignments will not receive my feedback.

  • Office hours and conferences: Please feel free to make an appointment with me during my office hours to discuss any questions you have about the class, your work, or just to talk about writing and books. If my office hours do not fit with your schedule, we can set up another time; I want to meet with you! I also highly recommend setting up an appointment to conference with me sometime in the week following the workshop of your story.  This is not required, but I’ve found that students who come in to talk about their revision strategies consistently produce better revisions. 

  • Formatting: All exercises and stories should be double-spaced in 12-point easily-readable black font.  Include your name and the page number on every page of an assignment, and include the course title and my name on the first page.  Make sure you staple anything more than one page.  Please spell-check and proofread. Failure to follow these guidelines will impact your grade.

  • Academic Honesty: All work submitted for this class must be your own and written for this class. Please familiarize yourself with Stanford’s Honor Code: http://studentaffairs.stanford.edu/judicialaffairs/policy/honor-code.

  • Meeting your needs: Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must immediately initiate the request with the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) located within the Office of Accessible Education (located at 563 Salvatierra Walk; phone: 650-723-1066).

  • Goodbye laptop, hello notebook: No open laptops in class. No phones either. We’re going old-school here, notebooks only. This is to minimize distractions for you and those around you. Learning how to concentrate only on the task at hand is a key skill for any writer. Ideally, you will have one notebook for class and a separate notebook that will be your writing notebook. Your writing notebook is where you jot down ideas, overheard conversation, observations, insights, excerpts from books you’re reading, anything and everything. It is also okay if you have one notebook split in half for these two purposes.

  • Make-up assignments: If you are more than ten minutes late for class or cannot attend three readings, you will read an author interview in either The Paris Review or The Believer and bring a short written response to me the following class. These journals can be found in the library or online: www.parisreview.com/literature.php and www.believermag.com.

  • The bottom line: Your grade in this class will be determined by the effort and engagement you bring to your work, your development over the quarter, and the contributions you make to our workshop community. I will do all I can to make this a creative supportive community for you and to help you feel truly excited about your work and development in this class. To that end, this is a working syllabus; it will likely be revised as we go along and I get a better sense of your needs.

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious . . .

To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer,

is ultimately about asking yourself,

How alive am I willing to be?”

(Anne Lamott)

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