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Many universities offer degrees in creative writing with courses such as “Short Story Writing” or “Fiction Writing”. I would imagine that such courses are quite unlike other subjects, such as math or history.

  • What do typical upper-level creative writing courses look like in the US?
  • What does the average assignment look like?
  • How do professors typically assign grades?
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What country are you referring to? –  Lauren Ipsum Dec 30 '12 at 13:11
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

My graduate level creative writing courses worked like this, more or less.

  1. You sign up or volunteer to bring in work. You sign up in advance. In classes of 10-18 people, everyone shared work about three times a semester.
  2. On your day to bring in work, you make copies for the entire class and distribute.
  3. There was always some variation here. Either you read your work in class and then have it critiqued immediately following the reading, or you hand out your work on the turn in day and then have it verbally critiqued the following class after everyone has read it over and marked it up.
  4. I was commonly graded on word count, though some writing professors graded on a vague notion of content. In-class participation contributed to my grade as well.

In terms of assignments, I had a few professors who would give writing prompts based around certain thematic elements. This was rare. Normally, a class on Short Fiction meant that you were expected to write short pieces and not novel chapters or poetry. Likewise with a Screenwriting class. The professor would initiate discussion and the class would function as a "workshop". There were never tests.

I think you'll find that a writing workshop takes on the personality of the professor. Typically, students gravitate towards the professors who teach workshops that speak to their style. You're right. The classes are not like math or history classes. They're much more colloquial and student run. Occasionally professors will run a workshop rigorously, but usually they will just facilitate discussion.

I stress, though, that this was my experience at a small college at the graduate level.

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What tylerharms describes is similar to my experiences at an undergrad level at a fairly large college.

There were 10 to 12 people in the class. We received an assignment (Write a short play, or Write an essay about something personal) and had to turn it in by a specific deadline. The deadlines were rotated so that in each class we were discussing one person's work.

So on Tuesday, let's say, I would make copies of my play and distribute it to everyone in class. The next class period (Thursday) everyone was expected to have read the play and marked it up, and we discussed it. People gave me comments and I defended my choices or accepted the critique. At the end of the class, everyone gave me back their marked-up copies for my review.

I genuinely don't recall how any of my professors graded. I think one poetry assignment was "Take a previous work you submitted in this class and improve it using your classmates' suggestions," but beyond that, I guess it was subjective using the same criteria as everyone else: did you like it? did it work? was it technically sound?

In the Essay Writing class, which was three times a week, we would begin the week with a five-minute writing exercise. Someone would volunteer a word ("defenestrate") and everyone had to write nonstop for five minutes on the clock about that word. Then one or two of us might share their writing and we'd critique it. We also read published essays for homework and discussed them in the same way we did one another's work. That class also had scheduled office hours, where you had to come in outside class time and discuss your work with the professor for half an hour or so.

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