Ever since we moved to semesters, I’ve struggled to figure out just how to teach my Advanced Fiction Workshop. It’s a big class–twenty-five, which is way over the number of students recommended by AWP–and to even get through that many workshops takes most of the time. I’ve decided this semester, in order to get through two stories each, I’m going to shorten the amount of discussion time to twenty-five minutes each story so we can do three a day. In order for me to do three a day, I am only doing bullet point responses instead of writing full letters to the students. Something had to give, and this way we’ll have about six full weeks to discuss issues of craft, essays on craft, literary citizenship, and published stories, discussions I think are very valuable. Plus, I’ve discovered Powerpoint and memes so these discussions will be very well organized and colorful.
I also decided to only allow stories for workshops and not excerpts of longer works. The two main reasons are so 1) I can see a full narrative arc from the student and they are required to write beginnings, middles, and ends (beginnings being the easiest. If I could just write beginnings for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy [but very incomplete] writer) and 2) I feel unless we’re all working on novels and gearing discussions, readings, and workshops toward that structure, the novel excerpts end up with a watered-down workshop that’s not as effective. I’m expecting some push-back about this decision.
I’m starting my eleventh year teaching at Wright State this fall, and my first as a promoted professor. I marvel sometimes that I was lucky enough to end up in this profession, and marvel too, that after ten years, I’m still overhauling my syllabus nearly every time.