Hey English Teachers and Writers, any suggestions for a class that looks like this?

When I begin to write a syllabus for an upcoming class, I usually first think about the course’s goals and what the assignments should be.  Once that’s decided, I try to plan a schedule that will help us reach the objectives.  As I began this process for my upcoming summer courses, I was feeling kind of bummed out thinking about diving back into that same old work.  Class never ends up much like my ideal writing day, and so I’ve decided to mix up the structure for how I think about planning a course.  I’m starting with what is closer to an ideal writing day for me, and using that routine to give the class structure.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Daily Course Structure for Prof. Torg’s Composition Class

For me, to be a writer and thinker means to live within a mass of habits. I believe there might be as many ways to write and think as there are people engaged the acts.  By living in this routine three days a week for six weeks, I hope you’ll begin to think about how to craft your own routine for thinking, or it might be that you’re more of a person who will create an anti-routine.

(20 minutes)    Writing Studies / Annotating a Text

Let’s see what other people have to say about writing.  When I say annotate, I mean that I want you to try and have a conversation with the writer on a copy of their text.  After that, let’s practice using MLA guidelines to integrate the thoughts of others into our own texts.

(5 min)           Warm Up with Rich Language (I provide or you choose?)

Read something that will challenge your intellect, the sort of text that might introduce you to a new word.   Log the word, the context, the title of the work and the author into your daybook.  I think I’ll start you with Poetry magazine.

(10 min)          Teacher as Text.

This is like the first twenty minutes, but you’ll do this on your own with a text of your choosing.  Read something that you’d say is among the best of the sort of text you are trying to write.  I recently adapted my novel and so early each morning I tried to challenge/inspire myself by reading from Alan Ball’s American Beauty and Diablo Cody’s Juno. Look for one writerly observation of which you might make use.  Log the example in your daybook.  Make sure you take good enough notes that you could quote from this text and cite it in a works cited entry for your Writer on Writing Paper.

(20 minutes)    Write a Draft of Something you Need to Write.

Most, if not all of us, write on a computer screen with lots of distractions.  Here, we’re going to try something different:  we’ll write on paper ignoring our cell phone, instant messages, and the latest email to come dinging into our inbox.

(20 minutes)    Small Group Workshop.

Here’s something you might not be used to:  a real audience.  You can share what you just wrote or something that you’ve written and brought in.  It’s best that we all have a copy, but it is also fine if we don’t.  Readers should annotate the text:  underline phrases that get your attention, challenge the thinking, explain what you learn, and ask questions of each other and the writer.

(10 minutes)    A Lesson From Prof. Torg. Usually, there’s something coming up that I need to explain.

(10 minutes)    Work on Your Group Technology Project.

Your group is to make a movie and write a paper that focuses on one aspect of writing studies.

(5 minutes)      What happened worth mentioning today?

Let’s hear from a couple of the writers in the room.  What happened today that you can share?  Is there something you’ve written or read that you are willing to read to us?

(10 minutes)    Prof. Torg on a Text for Grade.

For this portion of the class, I want to show you the best I can what goes on in my head as I read a text written by someone I’m going to have to give a grade.

(10 minutes)    Research at Work.

I’m going to show you clips from a variety of documentaries and/or the work of previous students.  I see these films/texts as examples of those who are asking meaningful questions and pursuing answers.

Literary Agent Queries

I’m writing you not as someone who has an agent, but as someone who worked as a reader for an agency, has queried a lot of agents and received requests for full manuscripts, and as someone who now has a forthcoming novel with an independent press.

What’s my background?  After I earned an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College and State University, I got a job teaching in the Institute For Writing Studies at St. John’s University.  The summer before I began my job, I contacted Folio Literary Management in Manhattan and inquired about being a reader for them.  This meant that I attended a weekly editorial meeting where I was given manuscripts to read and the next week I’d let the agent who ran the meeting know if I saw anything I thought they might be looking for.  After a summer of doing that, I developed my own strategy for sending queries.

I look for agents on the Publishers Marketplace website.  I limit my search to pages that have been updated in the past ten days.  To me, this means I’m only querying agents who have recently said they are accepting queries.  I read about the agent to see if they represent anything “like” I have written.  The agents receive many queries a day, and so I know I only have a couple of words, if that, to get them interested. I have the title of my book and my last name as the subject line.  I have a 2-3 sentence hook.  For example, for the novel I have forthcoming with Cherokee McGhee Press, I said that Love on the Big Screen is set in 1990 and tells the story of a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies.  Then I give a little bit about me:  my degrees, my current job, and my short list of publications.  After that, I copy the first two pages into the text of the email.  I don’t send attachments.  All this makes me think very hard about my title, the two-sentence pitch, and the first couple of pages. I think it’s good for me to think about those things a lot even before I first begin to write.

If there are any specific instructions, not too elaborate, I follow those.  In general, that just means that an agent might want a synopsis or a different length of sample.  Sometimes I hear back from agents the same day.  They want the full manuscript or they’re not interested.  Other times, sometimes six months later, I’d get a short note that the agent isn’t interested.

Keep in mind, this is only my perspective.  Agents get a lot of emails from writers wanting them to represent their work.  This means that you only have a few words, if that many, to get their attention.  You should try to find out a little bit about the agent