English 423
Creative Writing Studio

#12127, 3 Credits, Spring 2013
South Engineering 314, Thursdays, 5:00-7:30pm (we will sometimes meet in Morrill 111 to use the computer cluster there)
Prerequisites: Engl 322, 323, 275, or permission of instructor

Instructor:  Cindy Nichols                                                                                           
Office: Minard 316F
Office Hours: T 12:30-2:30 and TH 12:30-1:30.
Phone:  218-236-8233
Email:  Cindy.Nichols@ndsu.edu (Email is the best way to contact me. I WAY prefer email!)

Course Description

This is an advanced studio workshop course with an emphasis on the student as working artist.  Members are expected to bring intellectual curiosity, growing critical awareness, and initiative—as well as generous participation —to the class. It is a place where you can practice several types of creative literary work, receiving informed and ample feedback as you go along. Though close reading of contemporary texts, possible short exercises, and community events are important components, the heart of the course is independent writing and intensive workshop discussion.

Be aware that this is NOT a class in genre fiction (teen novels, children's writing, sci-fi, action-adventure, etc.) The work we produce is for adultsadults who have read widely and will not appreciate formula writing. They are looking for originality, depth, scope, complexity. Even if you're primarily interested in genre fiction, you'll learn a lot from the kinds of writing we'll do in this class.

Aims of this course:

  • to complete a chapbook in your choice of genre, with the goal of eventual publication by established presses;
  • to widely sample the variety in contemporary writing; i.e. READ and practice reading as writers;
  • to locate and explore your individual centers of interest in a setting both supportive and challenging;
  • to improve your understanding and practice of process as well as craft;
  • to improve critical awareness, including a broad knowledge of common and sometimes competing standards and expectations within the literary fine arts;
  • to demonstrate knowledge of local and national resources for creative writers, including national chapbook contests.

Required Texts
"Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!" (William Faulkner, Yenra Quotations).

  • Margeret-Love Denman and Barbara Shoup, Story Matters, Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006.
  • Charles Baxter, The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, Graywolf Press, 2007.
  • Dean Young, The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction, Graywolf Press, 2010.
  • Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World into Word, Graywolf Press, 2010.
  • Robert Pinsky, The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

Additional required readings will come from instructor-developed online materials as well as online fiction and poetry, all available through our electronic Class Library.



Recommended Reading

Amy Holman, An Insider's Guide to Creative Writing Programs: Choosing the Right MFA or MA Program, Colony, Residency,Grant or Fellowship, Prentice Hall Press, 2006

Wendy Bishop, Keywords in Creative Writing, Utah State University Press, 2006.

Required Resources

You will need frequent access to a computer, printer, the internet, and email. You also must know how to send email document attachments. (Check with the Technology Learning Center in IACC or the ITS Help Desk if you need assistance.)

You will additionally need your own transportation to and from two community events. Be sure to make arrangements in your schedule well in advance for attending these events. (See me to discuss any difficulties you may have with scheduling.)



(check/no check)

"I am an archeologist of morning."—Charles Olson

The "studio workshop" method of learning is the heart of this course—a system which assumes that you are working independently on you own material throughout the semester. Submitting work at least twice in the semester is therefore a mandatory requirement for passing the course.

Whenever you have something ready for feedback, you will post it in our Blackboard Multi-Use Board/Workshop Forum and also email it to the rest of the class (via Blackboard email) no later than Tuesday of each week. We'll print out our own copies and have your work read in time for your workshop session the next Thurs.

Both in-class workshop and online critique count as workshop credit. You receive a "check" in the record for each workshop session on your work. The assumption here is that you are working actively and independently and are eager for feedback; that you will submit material for discussion throughout the term.

It's important to understand that much of this course is self-directed. I.e., for the most part I will NOT structure your time, your work, your writing, or your learning for you. Again, the assumption is that you are self-motivated and self-disciplining. Hopefully the course will motivate you, but that is not its primary purpose. Its primary purpose is to provide you with informed, engaged feedback on your work and to give us all a space for open discussion of issues and readings that matter to us as writers.



(40 pts. possible; 40% of semester total*)

A chapbook is like a regular book, but usually self-published in small numbers, very simply produced, and short. Your chapbook manuscript will be a selection/collection of semester work, roughly 15-20 pages for poetry, 25-35 pages for fiction, or 20-30 pages for a mix. (These page guidelines can vary greatly.) Criteria for evaluation of all creative work are based on a noncommercial standard, independent of any particular school or aesthetic, but attuned to general assumptions, understandings, and principles common in the professional fine arts. Keeping in mind your personal interests and aims as much as possible, I'll weigh a number of sometimes competing values:

  • inventiveness and originality
  • emotional, intellectual, and imaginative interest
  • development, detail, and complexity
  • formal integrity
  • risk-taking (formal, thematic, personal, political...)
  • polish and presentation
  • overall investment, as well as depth, scope and ambition of your complete project
  • fitness for a well-read fine arts audience interested in challenging and engaging contemporary writing

*Note: If you your workshop sessions are few and far between, if you have actually missed your own workshop sessions, or if your reflective letter and/or semester attendance are weak, I will hold your chapbook to an extra high standard. Workshop (process) and chapbook (product) are closely interconnected.

Additional Note: It's very important that you absorb and thoughtfully heed workshop suggestions. Failure to do this means that everyone in the class has wasted their time trying to help you improve. Obviously, you won't make changes based on every workshop comment made—it's up to you to filter the criticism and apply what makes most sense to you and the work you're trying to create. But I should see revisions and growth in your work as the term progresses. Items in your chapbook which have been workshopped but contain absolutely no revision for improvement are a very bad sign!

Your chapbook will include standard book conventions, such as cover, dedication, title page, acknowledgments, table of contents, notes. Due date: no later than ____. None will be accepted after that date and time, except with documented evidence of serious hardship or illness. A=44-50; B=37-43; C=30-36; D=23-29. F=0.

If you want your chapbook returned, you must enclose it in a self-addressed and self-stamped envelope or box.

Reflective Letter

(20 pts.possible; 20% of semester total)

This will be a 4-page essay-letter to the instructor, typed and double-spaced, examining and analyzing what you've learned in the course of the term. It will

  1. Discuss the number of workshop sessions for which you submitted material, as well as your attendance record and level of participation.
  2. Summarize with some detail the feedback you received during workshop sessions and conferences, then explain both specifically and generally how you subsequently revised and plan to revise your work.
  3. Describe generally as well as concretely how you've applied course content to your poems and/or stories, drawing on specific class discussions and activities, reading assignments, and community events.
  4. Address what you've learned about the strengths and weaknesses of your work, as well as possible future directions—where you see your work headed.
  5. Assess your overall progress and development as a writer.

Purpose: 1) to help you absorb, understand, and evaluate what you've learned as a writer; 2) to help your instructor evaluate your progress.

Evaluation criteria: your essay should be focused, organized, coherent, and developed with plenty of specific detail and analysis. The essay should heed all of the instructions described above, and your reader should be left with a good sense of what you've learned in this class about your writing and writing in general. Your workshop performance, as reflected in this letter, may affect your chapbook score. Due date: no later than_____. No reflective letters will be accepted after that date, except with documented evidence of serious hardship or illness. A=18-20; B=15-17; C=12-14; D=9-11.

If you want your reflective letter returned, you must enclose it in a self-addressed and self-stamped envelope.

Reading and Daily Work

(30 pts. or 30% of semester total)

Depending on the type and volume of material which comes in for workshop, we'll complete occasional short exercises and activities throughout the term, intended as writing prompts, memory aides, skills practice, or ways to explore particular problems. Much of this activity will be generated by the specific needs of our particular class and the kind of work being produced.

Daily work will be closely linked at times to our course readings. NO writer becomes good without reading--abundantly, deeply, with an open mind, with a discerning mind, with pleasure. The reading assignments for this class are therefore vital, and will often be linked to discussion in our workshop sessions on your own poems and stories.


Community Readings or Workshops

(10 pts or 10% of semester total)

Participation and attendance at poetry and fiction readings are part of what active writers do. Events are fairly frequent in Fargo/Moorhead and the Tri-College system, and you should plan to attend AT LEAST 2 such events during the semester. These should be literary readings or workshops—not academic talks or lectures. For each event, you'll write a 2-page typed and double-spaced report, describing what happened and how it might help you with your writing. Each successfully written report earns you a total possible of 10 pts. A=9-10; B=7.75-8.75; C=6.5-7.5; D=5.25-6.25.



Grading is based on a simple point system, in which your aim is to earn as close to 100 as possible. You’ll start the semester with 0, then earn credit for the coursework described above. My subjective judgment (especially in regards to check/no check work) will also be factored in.

All written work should undergo thoughtful, engaged revision; it should also be edited and proofread for mechanical errors or stylistic lapses. Staple and paginate all hardcopy materials. If you turn in an item via email, be sure to include your name and page numbers on any file attachments. And include as well a very clear email subject header!

To arrive at a specific number of points for a given assignment, I first assign a letter grade where Very Good=A; Good=B; Fair=C; Poor=D; Unacceptable=F. I then fine-tune that letter grade judgment with points.

At the end of the term I’ll tally your points, taking into account your attendance, participation, and development as a writer. To pass the course, you must receive a minimum semester total of 49. The final grade scale looks like this: 

90-100 pts. = A
79-89 pts. = B
68-78 pts. = C
57-67 pts. = D

Note: I reserve the right to over-ride a strict numeral tally of points in cases where performance has otherwise been extremely good or bad, and where my subjective but informed and documented judgment suggests a point tally is not appropriate.


If you ever have questions or concerns, be sure to contact me!

Attendance and Missed Classes

Please AVOID ARRIVING LATE. Sign-in notes are completed and important announcements made in the first several minutes of every class. When you come late, you will not have sufficient time for your notes and will be uninformed about announcements. Many absences and late arrivals will have a negative impact on your overall profile and may affect your semester grade, especially in borderline cases. Late arrivals are also very distracting and discourteous.

In addition to the above, you must heed the following NDSU English Department Attendance Policy:

In compliance with NDSU University Senate Policy, Section 333: Class Attendance and Policy and Procedure, located at <http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/policy/333.htm>, the English Department has established the following attendance policy. All English Department courses require active learning. Students are expected to speak, listen, and contribute. Therefore, prompt, regular attendance is required. Students who miss more than four weeks of class during the standard academic semester (e.g. twelve 50 minute classes, eight 75 minute classes, or four 150 minute classes) will not pass the course. Moreover, each student is accountable for all work missed because of absence, and instructors have no obligation to make special arrangements for missed work. Additional attendance requirements may be implemented at the discretion of the individual instructor.


What To Do If You Miss a Class

  1. DO NOT come to me asking, “What did we do?” (Or, even worse, “Did we do anything?”)
  2. As soon as possible, contact 2 or more classmates for full class notes, instructions, handout titles, etc. If the classmates you contact did not take helpful notes or are otherwise uninformed, you should contact someone else. (You are responsible for knowing what transpires in each class session, whether you are present or not.) If you know in advance that you will miss a class meeting and/or class work, contact classmates well ahead of time for assistance.
  3. After contacting classmates for full information, you may then visit or email me if you have specific, informed questions. Always include your class and section number on the subject line of emails.


What To Do If Your Work is Late

Daily Work

You can make this up within a week. You don't need to contact me; just hand in the material (HARDCOPY) with a note which identifies the assignment clearly and states the date it was originally due. All materials should be stapled. Daily work later than a week will not be accepted.

Chapbook and Reflective Letter

The end-of-term deadline for these is firm. Late material is only accepted with documented evidence of serious hardship or illness.


A Note to English Majors

During their senior year, English majors generally enroll in the English Capstone course (Engl 467), during which they assemble a portfolio containing representative written work from NDSU English courses. The English Department evaluates these portfolios to assess its undergraduate programs, analyzing how student work meets departmental outcomes. In order to facilitate the preparation of senior portfolios, English majors are encouraged to save copies of their written work (in electronic and hard copy) each semester.

Departmental Outcomes

This course meets at least two English Dept. outcomes:

Outcome 2: English majors will be able to read (analyze, interpret, critique, evaluate) written and visual texts.

How this outcome will be met: reading of literary and critical works is an important component of this course. Readings are assigned each week and are then investigated through discussion, group work, in-class writing, and quizzes. Analysis and interpretation also come into play during workshop sessions in which student material is discussed. Critique and evaluation are near the heart of every workshop experience.

Outcome 4: English majors will be able to manage sophisticated writing and research projects, planning, documenting, completing, and assessing work on time and within the constraints of the project.

How this outcome will be met: students in this course are required to produce a chapbook which exhibits most conventions of a published book. The project demands practice with design and presentation skills, in addition of course to the requisite writing skills. Accompanying this project is a detailed reflective letter which focuses on self-assessment. Research is formally required in the Writer's Link assignment; informally it is encouraged in every workshop session and conference. (Suggestions for helpful sources and lines of inquiry are part of all discussions.)


Americans with Disabilities Statement/Students with Special Needs

Any students with disabilities or other special needs, who need special accommodations in this course are invited to share these concerns or requests with the instructor as soon as possible.

Student Conduct

All interactions in this course including interactions by email, weblogs, discussion boards, or other online methods will be civil and students will demonstrate respect for one another. Student conduct at NDSU is governed by the Code of Student Behavior. See http://www.ndsu.edu/ndsu/vpsa/code/ for more information.

University Statement on Academic Honesty

All work in this course must be completed in a manner consistent with NDSU University Senate Policy, Section 335: Code of Academic Responsibility and Conduct. http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/policy/335.htm

Any instances of deliberate plagiarism in English 423 will result in an F for the course.