ENGL 399-001 and 399-002: Creative
Fall 2008 George Mason University
Scott W. Berg
Office: Performing Arts Building, room
Office Hours: Thursdays 1:30-2:30. Better yet, make an appointment
A NOTE ABOUT MY SCHEDULE: My overlapping lives as a professor, author, freelance writer, advisor, and member of a family keep me very busy. Please keep in mind that the best way to make an appointment with me or to discuss something with me is to catch me after class or during office hours. I take note of every e-mail I receive, but I'm not always able to send a response quickly, and I'm not offended by (gentle) reminders.
Three books are required for this
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and
Denim, David Sedaris
The Stone Fields: Love and Death in the Balkans, Courtney Brkic
This Boy's Life, Tobias Wolff
In addition, three fiction short
stories and four
stories will be provided for you.
You will be responsible for making copies of your own work, sometimes enough for your workshop group and sometimes, perhaps, enough for the entire class.
You've opted to study writing at an advanced level, so be sure you own a good dictionary and a good English handbook as well. I recommend The American Heritage Dictionary (hardcover) and Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference, 5th edition.
PREREQUISITES FOR ENGLISH 399
You must have completed and/or received transfer credit for 45 total credit hours and any 200-level English courses required of your major, and you must have completed or received transfer credit for ENGL309 or ENGL396. I am not the person who dispenses information and advice about course eligibility; if you have questions, contact Laura Scott, English department advisor, at 703/993-1179 or email@example.com, and tell her I sent you. This course fulfills a requirement for students in the nonfiction concentration in English and is designed as part of that concentration, but students from all English concentrations and all other majors are welcome.
Here is the catalog description of the
course: "Workshop course in the reading and writing of nonfiction that
makes use of literary techniques usually thought of in the context of
fiction, such as evoking senses and the use of dialogue. Original
student work is read and discussed in class and in conferences with the
instructor. Includes technical exercises in the artful creating of
nonfiction and may include reading assignments."
This is a cooperative discussion and workshop class, which relies on the attendance and active contribution of its members to succeed. You're required to let me know in advance of any absences. An excused absence will be any legitimate absence which I know of ahead of time. These excused absences (as long as they are not frequent) will be treated differently than unexcused absences: there will be more opportunity to make up graded assignments, in-class writing, etc.
NOTE ON ATTENDANCE: Missing class
regularity will damage your ability to do well in the course.
There are limits to the kind of absenteeism I'll allow: Anyone
missing more than
two weeks (two classes) consecutively or more than three weeks (three
will not be able to pass the course because of the missed in-class work
and participation. Approaching these limits will affect your
final grade as well, though to what degree will depend on your
level of communication with me and your contributions
when you are in class.
The central work of the class will be two original non-fiction pieces
-- what we will call "nonfiction short stories" --
of at least 2000 words each,
each one about some past event involving yourself.
You'll write a series of reading responses discussing fiction and nonfiction writing from the assigned books.
We will have at least four editorial workshops
during the semester, when you will meet in groups of three or four
classmates to discuss your work. These days are very important
to this class, and as such, workshop participation cannot be made
will also be responsible for two workshop responses in reaction
to the comments of your
Punctuality is important. Please be on time for class.
NOTE ON FORMAT and MECHANICS: All out-of-class writing must be typed, double-spaced, normal margins, Times New Roman font or something equally readable. No colored fonts, no fancy fonts, no cover pages, no plastic binders for your writing. Pages should be numbered and stapled; the first page should include, in the upper left corner, your name, the name of this class (ENGL399-001 or ENGL399-002), the designated assignment name ("Reading Response #1," "Draft #1 of First Nonfiction Piece," etc.), and the date. At the end of each draft of your creative pieces, please provide a word count. All writing should be free, or nearly free, of mechanical errors -- the focus in this class is on style, form, and content, not grammar and punctuation. The ability to competently manipulate the fundamental units of English composition--the word, the sentence and the paragraph--is a prerequisite and not a goal for this course.
Each of you will meet with me for at least two conferences. Class will be canceled to afford time for these individual meetings. A scheduled conference is a required assignment, and must be made up if missed.
Revision is an important part of this class. Both of the major creative assignments will go through one exploratory and one complete rough draft. These drafts are required assignments, and count towards your grade.
You must do everything assigned -- reading, rough and final drafts of assignments, workshops, conferences, and shorter writings -- to receive a passing grade in the class.
Your grade will be determined according
Nonfiction short stories #1 and #2: 60% total (30% each)
Reading and Workshop Responses: 20% total
Class Participation: 20%
Your grade is not based solely on an
editorial assessment of your writing, nor is based solely on whether
you accomplish every item on my checklist. A student who
receives an A or A- in this class must show herself or himself to be a
very good writer and a very good student. The writing of an A
student does not have to duplicate the overall polish and quality of
the readings for
but does aim for the same types of strengths with a sense of craft and
originality. Being a good student
means being in class and entering into the spirit as well as the letter
of the work. Participation is important, as is evidence that
you're engaged. Being late with assignments, nodding off during
class, failing to absorb discussions or lectures through disinterest or
lack of concentration; these aren't the attributes of a good student.
A NOTE ABOUT SAVING YOUR WRITING
There can be no excuse in the year 2008 for losing one's only copy of a piece of writing. If you aren't yet familiar with the many methods available to you to decrease the likelihood that you will lose your only copy of a piece of writing, educate yourself now. Never carry around a piece of writing on a jump/flash drive or ZIP disk without making sure that you've also saved that piece of writing to 1) a hard drive somewhere 2) a server somewhere (by e-mailing it to yourself) 3) a second storage medium, or 4) a paper copy. More sensibly, you'll use several of these methods at once.
PLAGIARISM AND LATE ASSIGNMENTS
Here is the definition of plagiarism, according to the English Department:
Plagiarism means using the exact words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles is not sufficient. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in the academic setting.
Egregious plagiarism will result in an F for the assignment and a report of an Honor Code violation.
Late papers and assignments will be penalized. This penalty will depend on the nature of the offense; for example, an assignment one day late will suffer less than an assignment five days late. (The minimum penalty, though, is a half-grade reduction: B to B-, for example.) No writing a week late or more will receive a passing grade. I will consider, though not automatically grant, extension requests made at least one class period in advance--but only if they are infrequent.
THE UNIVERSITY WRITING CENTER
The University Writing Center is a free one-on-one tutorial service, available to all GMU students who want to work on writing skills. Stop by Robinson Hall, room A114, or call 993-1200 for information and appointments.