English 50 — Introduction to Creative Writing



English 50 



Workshop Groups 

Workshop Schedule 

Workshop Guidelines


Course Policies (Spring 2010)


English 50 is designed to acquaint you with, and give you practice in, the writing of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.  You will be asked to tap into your imagination.  More significantly, you will learn to harness your imagination, to craft your thoughts into a cogent form.  Make no mistake: writing is hard work.  But it can also be great fun.  I expect you to make a commitment to this class, to write every day.  You should also be prepared to do a lot of reading.  You cannot become a great writer without first developing a love for the written word.

Required Texts:

Frances Mayes. The Discovery of Poetry 

Dinty W. Moore, The Truth of the Matter

Josip Novakovich. Fiction Writer’s Workshop

William Zinsser. On Writing Well

Plus additional readings from electronic reserve and the Internet

Recommended Texts:

William Strunk and E. B. White. The Elements of Style

Richard Lanham. Revising Prose

Dinty W. Moore (ed). Brevity. http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/index.htm

An unabridged dictionary

Although the texts should be available at all the usual venues, I strongly encourage you to buy your books at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe, 128 South Allen Street.  Please support independent booksellers while they still exist.

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Course Requirements:

Be here: I take it as a personal insult when students don’t show up for my class.  If I don’t see a classroom full of smiling faces, I tend to become ornery.  Come to class; I’ll try to make it worth your while.  You will be allowed three unexcused absences; any more, and your grade will suffer.  If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to get the assignments—hint: you might try e-mailing me with a lame excuse in a show of feigned sincerity.

Come to class prepared and participate: There will be a reading assignment and a writing assignment due for most classes.  You will be expected to come to class with all your assignments completed.  You will also be expected to take part in frank, free, uninhibited, open, yet civil, discourse.  Your opinion counts; everyone’s opinion counts.  Be unabashed, be forthright, but be courteous.  If I call on you and it is apparent that you have come to class unprepared, I will ask you to leave.

Listening: More than most, this course requires you to hone your listening skills.  I expect you to listen carefully to your classmates—being a successful participant requires you to be a successful listener.  As such, your participation grade will be assessed qualitatively, taking your listening skills into account.  Students who refuse to listen courteously to their classmates or instructor will be asked to leave.

Peer review/workshop: Not only is feedback crucial to you as a writer, but learning to read critically and offer constructive criticism to peers are skills essential for any writer to possess.  For each major assignment, we will devote two class periods to critiquing each other’s drafts.  One day, I’ll meet with half the class in a workshop setting and the rest of you will meet in small groups outside class to conduct peer reviews.  The other day, we’ll reverse the roles.  Drafts will be read before class and you will come to peer review/workshop prepared to discuss each other’s work in-depth.  In addition, you will provide written comments for the writer (your comments will be graded).  We will discuss procedure, guidelines, schedules, and décor for peer review/workshop in greater depth at a later date.

Please note: papers that have not been peer reviewed will not be graded.

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Major assignments: There will be three major writing assignments for the semester.

  • 6-10 page essay (nonfiction)

  • 3-5 poems (approximately 40 lines)

  • 6-10 page short story (fiction)

Minor assignments: There will be a small writing assignment, one or two pages, due for almost every class.  These will be either targeted responses to the readings or specified writing exercises.  Although they may be handwritten, I encourage you to type them and exercise due care in their preparation.  If you prefer, you may upload your homework to Angel.

Portfolios: At the end of the semester, you will submit your portfolios in a folder. The folder should include all revisions and a final version of each story. You will also submit a portfolio on floppy disk (or CD or flash drive).

Journals: Although I am not requiring you to keep a journal, I strongly recommend that you do so.  Journals serve as a good means to keep track of your thoughts and sharpen your writing chops—and it’s something to do when the conversation lags.

Be creative: I expect you tap into that special place inside your brain where creativity thrives.  I expect you to use language in new and imaginative ways.  I expect you to be unafraid to take chances.  Plot is overrated; narrative rules.  Few things bore me more than another rehashing of last week’s TV movie-of-the-week, next year's American Idol, or the latest interweb craze.  You will find, I hope, that the source of your greatest creativity lies within your own experience.

Enjoy yourself: It’s later than you think.

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Grades: Grades suck; they have no place in a creative writing course.  However, the university requires that I give you grades.  Your final grade will be determined as follows:

Short story (fiction)




Nonfiction essay


Minor assignments


Class participation


Peer review


Note: Pending my approval, major assignments may be revised to improve your grade.

Also note: This class maintains a strict no-whining-about-grades policy. If you wish to discuss your papers and how might improve your work, I will gladly meet with you. But the moment that you begin complaining about your grade, the discussion will end.

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Office conferences: I am required to be in my office three hours a week.  The time passes much more pleasantly if I have someone to talk to.  Come on by, sit a-spell: we’ll talk.  I’m here to help you; I suggest you take advantage of my generosity.  If you can’t make it during my office hours, set up an appointment for some other time.  

E-mail: I expect you to have an e-mail account and to check your e-mail at least once a day.  I frequently send additional assignments, corrections, clarifications, cancellations, and the occasional pep talk via e-mail.  In addition, I will require that you use e-mail to submit some homework assignments.  Feel free to e-mail me any time about anything (within reason, that is); you can (generally) expect a prompt reply.

Format: Prose should be typed or word-processed, using blue or black ink, double-spaced, with approximately one and one-quarter inch margins.  Please use a standard 12-point font and make sure the print is dark enough to be legible.  Place your name, the date, “English 50,” and my name (Paul Kellermann) in the upper left hand corner of the first page.  In the upper right hand corner, put the name of the assignment, the draft, and the word count.  Place your title above the text on page one and double space beneath it.  Page one need not be numbered, but page numbers should be placed (along with your last name) in the upper right hand corner of all subsequent pages.  Fasten the pages with a paper clip or staple.  I expect all papers to be spell-checked (and the spell-check to be verified with a good old-fashioned dictionary) and be relatively free of asinine grammatical mistakes and typos.  In other words, proofread the mofos before you hand them in—or better yet, have someone proofread for you.  Your papers should be submitted in a folder with all previous drafts and peer review/workshop comments.

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A word about plagiarism: Don’t!  Plagiarism is punishable by metaphoric (and academic) death.  (For a further explanation of the penalties for academic dishonesty, please refer to Faculty Senate Policy 49-20.)

A note about privacy: As the semester progresses, you will be expected to write about some rather intimate feelings and experiences.  Good writing is personal.  While I hope that you would want to share your work with everyone, I can foresee instances where you may wish to maintain your privacy.  If ever an instance arises where you prefer not to show your work to classmates, speak with me; I can make other arrangements for peer review.  Moreover, I believe there to be a teacher-student privilege.  Therefore, anything you divulge to me (short of confessing to a heinous crime) will be held in the strictest confidence.  I expect you all to have similar consideration for your classmates’ privacy.

A missive on our mission: I’ve tried to structure this class to be student driven.  The syllabus is a roadmap, but we can expect there to be a few detours on this turnpike to enlightenment.  As we proceed on our journey, I’ll be adding some readings, and removing others, to suit your needs and desires.  You should feel free to suggest readings to me.  Also, don’t be surprised if we take a field trip or two.

An inkblot about decorum: You will soon notice that I prefer an informal classroom setting.  I strongly believe that a relaxed atmosphere maximizes learning potential.  Loud, boisterous, jovial classes will be the norm, and you’ll be expected to contribute to the anarchy.  We’ll joke around; we may even make fun of one another in a playful (not malicious) manner.  But be forewarned: I will not tolerate intolerance or discourtesy in any form.  A little respect goes a long way.

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A policy reminder: The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation in this course or have questions, please tell me as soon as possible.

A seemingly unnecessary warning: This classroom is a cellular-free zone.  I do not want to see cell phones and I certainly don’t want to hear them.  Do yourself (and everyone) a favor: disconnect before coming to class and stow your phone away where it won't be a distraction.  If your cell phone rings during class, you will be asked to leave.  If I see your cell phone at all, I will ask you to leave.

I can't believe I even need to mention this: Class is only seventy-five minutes long.  Most healthy adults should be able to maintain for this length without taking a bathroom break.  Nevertheless, you might consider attending to your bodily needs before class begins and/or waiting until class ends.  If you have a medical condition that requires you to take frequent bathroom breaks, please inform me immediately.

Have fun.

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Paul M. Kellermann             
Office:   147 Burrowes Building
            (formerly known as 157 Burrowes)
Mailbox: 139 Burrowes Building
Phone:   865-3949 (office)
            867-4214 (home)
E-mail:   pmk8@psu.edu
Office hours: Tuesday 12:45-2:15, Friday 2:30-4:00, and by appointment

Last updated 13 January 2014

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