Creative Writing 101: Everything You Need to Get Started
Creative writing: You can take classes in it, you can earn a degree in it, but the only things you really need to do it are your creative thinking and writing tools. Creative writing is the act of putting your imagination on a page. It’s artistic expression in words; it’s writing without the constraints that come with other kinds of writing like persuasive or expository.
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What is creative writing?
Creative writing is writing meant to evoke emotion in a reader by communicating a theme. In storytelling (including literature, movies, graphic novels, creative nonfiction, and many video games), the theme is the central meaning the work communicates.
Take the movie (and the novel upon which it’s based) Jaws , for instance. The story is about a shark that terrorizes a beach community and the men tasked with killing the shark. But the film’s themes include humanity’s desire to control nature, tradition vs. innovation, and how potential profit can drive people in power to make dangerous, even fatal, decisions.
A theme isn’t the only factor that defines creative writing. Here are other components usually found in creative writing:
- Connecting, or at least attempting to connect, with the reader’s emotions
- Writing from a specific point of view
- A narrative structure can be complex or simple and serves to shape how the reader interacts with the content.
- Using imaginative and/or descriptive language
Creative writing typically uses literary devices like metaphors and foreshadowing to build a narrative and express the theme, but this isn’t a requirement. Neither is dialogue, though you’ll find it used in most works of fiction. Creative writing doesn’t have to be fictional, either. Dramatized presentations of true stories, memoirs, and observational humor pieces are all types of creative writing.
What isn’t creative writing?
In contrast, research papers aren’t creative writing. Neither are analytical essays, persuasive essays , or other kinds of academic writing . Similarly, personal and professional communications aren’t considered creative writing—so your emails, social media posts, and official company statements are all firmly in the realm of non-creative writing. These kinds of writing convey messages, but they don’t express themes. Their goals are to inform and educate, and in some cases collect information from, readers. But even though they can evoke emotion in readers, that isn’t their primary goal.
But what about things like blog posts? Or personal essays? These are broad categories, and specific pieces in these categories can be considered creative writing if they meet the criteria listed above. This blog post, for example, is not a piece of creative writing as it aims to inform, but a blog post that walks its reader through a first-person narrative of an event could be deemed creative writing.
Types of creative writing
Creative writing comes in many forms. These are the most common:
Novels originated in the eighteenth century . Today, when people think of books, most think of novels.
A novel is a fictional story that’s generally told in 60,000 to 100,000 words, though they can be as short as 40,000 words or go beyond 100,000.
Stories that are too short to be novels, but can’t accurately be called short stories, are often referred to as novellas. Generally, a story between 10,000 and 40,000 words is considered a novella. You might also run into the term “ novelette ,” which is used to refer to stories that clock in between 7,500 and 19,000 words.
Short stories are fictional stories that fall generally between 5,000 and 10,000 words. Like novels, they tell complete stories and have at least one character, some sort of conflict, and at least one theme.
When a story is less than 1,000 words, it’s categorized as a work of flash fiction.
Poetry can be hard to define because as a genre, it’s so open-ended. A poem doesn’t have to be any specific length. It doesn’t have to rhyme. There are many different kinds of poems from cultures all over the world, like sonnets, haikus, sestinas, blank verse, limericks, and free verse.
The rules of poetry are generally flexible . . . unless you’re writing a specific type of poem, like a haiku , that has specific rules around the number of lines or structure. But while a poem isn’t required to conform to a specific length or formatting, or use perfect grammar , it does need to evoke its reader’s emotions, come from a specific point of view, and express a theme.
And when you set a poem to music, you’ve got a song.
Plays, TV scripts, and screenplays
Plays are meant to be performed on stage. Screenplays are meant to be made into films, and TV scripts are meant to be made into television programs. Scripts for videos produced for other platforms fit into this category as well.
Plays, TV scripts, and screenplays have a lot in common with novels and short stories. They tell stories that evoke emotion and express themes. The difference is that they’re meant to be performed rather than read and as such, they tend to rely much more on dialogue because they don’t have the luxury of lengthy descriptive passages. But scriptwriters have more than just dialogue to work with; writing a play or script also involves writing stage or scene directions.
Each type of script has its own specific formatting requirements.
Creative nonfiction covers all the kinds of creative writing that aren’t fiction. Here are some examples:
- Personal essays: A personal essay is a true story told through a narrative framework. Often, recollections of events are interspersed with insights about those events and your personal interpretations and feelings about them in this kind of essay.
- Literary journalism: Think of literary journalism as journalism enhanced by creative writing techniques. These are the kinds of stories often published in outlets like The New Yorker and Salon. Literary journalism pieces report on factual events but do so in a way that makes them feel like personal essays and short stories.
- Memoirs: Memoirs are to personal essays what novels are to short stories. In other words, a memoir is a book-length collection of personal memories, often centering around a specific story, that often works opinions, epiphanies, and emotional insights into the narrative.
- Autobiographies: An autobiography is a book you write about yourself and your life. Often, autobiographies highlight key events and may focus on one particular aspect of the author’s life, like her role as a tech innovator or his career as a professional athlete. Autobiographies are often similar in style to memoirs, but instead of being a collection of memories anchored to specific events, they tend to tell the author’s entire life story in a linear narrative.
- Humor writing: Humor writing comes in many forms, like standup comedy routines, political cartoons, and humorous essays.
- Lyric essays: In a lyric essay, the writer breaks conventional grammar and stylistic rules when writing about a concept, event, place, or feeling. In this way, lyric essays are like essay-length poems. The reason they’re considered essays, and not long poems, is that they generally provide more direct analysis of the subject matter than a poem would.
Tips for writing creatively
Give yourself time and space for creative writing.
It’s hard to write a poem during your lunch break or work on your memoir between calls. Don’t make writing more difficult for yourself by trying to squeeze it into your day. Instead, block off time to focus solely on creative writing, ideally in a distraction-free environment like your bedroom or a coffee shop.
>>Read More: How to Create Your Very Own Writing Retreat
Get to know yourself as a writer
The more you write, the more in tune you’ll become with your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You’ll identify the kinds of characters, scenes, language, and pieces you like writing best and determine where you struggle the most. Understanding what kind of writer you are can help you decide which kinds of projects to pursue.
Once you know which kinds of writing you struggle with, do those kinds of writing. If you only focus on what you’re good at, you’ll never grow as a writer. Challenge yourself to write in a different genre or try a completely new type of writing. For example, if you’re a short story writer, give poetry or personal essays a try.
Need help getting started? Give one (or all!) of these 20 fun writing prompts a try .
Learn from other writers
There are lots of resources out there about creative writing. Read and watch them. If there’s a particular writer whose work you enjoy, seek out interviews with them and personal essays they’ve written about their creative processes.
>>Read More: How to Be a Master Storyteller—Tips from 5 Experts
Don’t limit yourself to big-name writers, either. Get involved in online forums, social media groups, and if possible, in-person groups for creative writers. By doing this, you’re positioning yourself to learn from writers from all different walks of life . . . and help other writers, too.
I wrote something. Where do I go from here?
Give yourself a pat on the back: You did it! You finished a piece of creative writing—something many attempt, but not quite as many achieve.
What comes next is up to you. You can share it with your friends and family, but you don’t have to. You can post it online or bring it to an in-person writing group for constructive critique. You can even submit it to a literary journal or an agent to potentially have it published, but if you decide to take this route, we recommend working with an editor first to make it as polished as possible.
Some writers are initially hesitant to share their work with others because they’re afraid their work will be stolen. Although this is a possibility, keep in mind that you automatically hold the copyright for any piece you write. If you’d like, you can apply for copyright protection to give yourself additional legal protection against plagiarizers, but this is by no means a requirement.
Write with originality
Grammarly can’t help you be more creative, but we can help you hone your writing so your creativity shines as brightly as possible. Once you’ve written your piece, Grammarly can catch any mistakes you made and suggest strong word choices that accurately express your message.
Explore online writing courses and programs
Why learn writing skills.
The ability to write well is a foundational skill for communication in both personal and professional settings. Writing allows you to express thoughts, opinions, ideas, and emotions. It facilitates connections between people and allows them to engage in the type of discourse that can lead to discovery and progress.
Clear and concise writing that conveys information both accurately and precisely can help guide people’s decision making and actions. The style of writing can express the importance and sense of urgency behind a message. The flow of writing can change the emotions that people feel when reading those words.
Whether you are writing a script for a podcast, crafting an email to your colleagues, or penning a message to a family member, strong writing skills can significantly improve how the communication is delivered and how it is received.
Browse online writing classes
Stand out in your field, learn at your own pace, earn a valuable credential, related topics, online writing course curriculum.
With online writing courses, any learner can master the skills needed to become a strong writer. Start with the fundamentals in an online grammar course, where you can learn about the different parts of speech, punctuation, conjugation, and sentence structure. Or more advanced writers can practice their storytelling and persuasive writing skills with an essay writing course. Develop your own style by reading and analyzing the works of other writers, and explore how to write in different formats and tones in creative writing courses.
You can even find courses that teach writing for specific contexts. For example, a business writing class may cover how to relay tough feedback or how to adjust your tone to build consensus.
For learners interested in advancing their knowledge in a variety of subjects, edX offers a range of educational opportunities, including boot camps , as well as bachelor's degree programs, and master’s degree programs. Explore how online education can help you build the critical skills you need and get started learning today.
Explore writing jobs
Clear writing and communication skills are assets in nearly every industry. Regardless of whether you work as a lawyer or a mathematician, you will likely need to be capable of crafting a well-written message.
But for those who enjoy writing, there are careers that can leverage their talents, including:
Journalist: Writes news or feature articles for video, online, or print publications.
Novelist or author: Focuses on storytelling by writing longform fiction and nonfiction.
Copywriter: Writes marketing-driven copy such as advertisements and emails.
Communications or public relations specialist: Delivers strategic messages on behalf of a client or an organization.
Speech writer: Crafts speeches for individuals including leaders or lawmakers.
Screenwriter: Develops scripts for movies, television shows, and other visual media.
Editor: Reviews and revises written materials for accuracy, clarity, and style.
How to start a career in writing
Writing takes practice. If you are interested in pursuing a career in the field, it’s important to ensure that you have a mastery of the fundamentals of writing. You can build those skills through instruction and coursework in which you have to apply what you have learned. That means responding to prompts, writing essays, and critically reviewing your work to better understand how you can improve.
Writing also requires expertise. While you can be a general writer, somebody who wants to pursue a technical writing career, for example, will need background knowledge of that field in order to be able to understand what they are reporting on or writing about. A strong understanding of how to research, interview, and source can also be beneficial for aspiring professionals in this space.
If you dream of being the next great writer, begin honing your craft with online courses delivered through edX.
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Master's degrees, bachelor's degrees, writing faq.
Effective writing is clear and accurate and provides enough context to engage readers and help them understand the message you are trying to deliver. For example, journalists provide context by focusing on the “who, what, when, where, and why” of a situation.
There are many different types of writing including, but not limited to: persuasive writing, creative writing, poetry, script writing, journalism, nonfiction, academic writing, speech writing, and song writing.
Learners develop writing skills at their own pace. Developing mastery takes practice and time.
Sometimes grammatical rules are not universally applicable, which can make them difficult to remember. Everyone has different learning styles and speeds. Memorization can help, but practice is key.
There are online courses that can help you learn how to organize your ideas and develop your voice for a business setting. You can practice writing effective emails, reports, and presentations.
Aspiring creative writers can develop their skills by taking classes that not only teach them about the essential elements of storytelling, but also give them opportunities to practice writing and critiquing both their own work and the work of other writers.
Last updated June 2023
Online Class: Creative Writing 101
- 43 Exams & Assignments
- 3,821 Students have taken this course
- 19 Hours average time
"creative writing 101: nurturing the art of expression".
"Creative Writing 101" delves into the enigmatic essence of human creativity, especially as it manifests in written form. Our journey spans a vast expanse of genres: from timeless novels, intense dramas, lyrical poetry, insightful essays, screenplay arts, to the everyday stories that bind us. Each genre, in its own way, offers a fresh perspective on the creative impulse.
At the heart of any writer's work lies their unique voice. This course emphasizes the exploration of the Writer's Voice, its distinct resonance, and the personality it reflects. We will discuss how writing serves not just as a tool for storytelling but also as a therapeutic avenue. The course will dismantle myths surrounding the writing process, delving into the age-old legends and narratives that have shaped our understanding of the written word. The inspiration you seek might be found in the most unexpected of places, and we aim to guide you there.
Who can truly grasp the entirety of creativity? The one who does might be hailed as the most profound author of our time. Yet, it is this very search, this passionate pursuit, that forms the crux of our exploration. Your creative prowess isn't mere self-deception or hubris. Whether a neophyte or a seasoned professional, your creative essence is intrinsic, akin to your smile or the unique way you perceive the world around you. In many ways, tapping into this creativity is a spiritual endeavor, a connection to the larger tapestry of existence.
Creativity isn't limited to art; it's intertwined with our daily lives. For instance, consider the myriad choices that go into creating something as commonplace as a phone directory: from typography decisions to content layout. Yet, in the hands of an actor of Al Pacino's caliber, even a phone book can be rendered with the dramatic flair of Shakespearean prose. Creativity is everywhere, waiting to be recognized and harnessed.
Your understanding of your own creative process is deeply personal. It's a flame that demands nurturing. Writers, in particular, face unique challenges. Unlike instantaneous art forms, written works require time to be consumed. They demand dissemination, be it through publication or digital platforms. Recognition can be an arduous journey. Yet, the passion for writing, the irresistible pull towards self-expression, remains undimmed.
How does one cultivate creativity? It's akin to holistic self-care. Renowned figures like the Dalai Lama, St. Francis of Assisi, and Mahatma Gandhi have all contemplated the unfathomable depths of creativity without arriving at a definitive understanding. Instead of dissecting creativity, we should foster it, letting it grow organically. In essence, nurturing your creativity is synonymous with nurturing your very soul.
The benefits of creativity are manifold. It uplifts spirits, heals wounds, and brings joy. At times, it can be a ticket to prosperity or a tool for forging connections. Yet, as with all things, it comes with its risks. The very passion that fuels creativity can sometimes become overwhelming, so it's essential to maintain a balance.
As you traverse the world of creative writing, remember this: writing, at its core, is an art of innovation. It's a dance of ideas, a harmonious blend of thoughts and expressions. In the vast realm of creativity, there is no room for stagnation. Movement, growth, and evolution are its lifeblood.
What is creative writing? In its purest form, it's unadulterated joy!
- Lesson 1 : Personal Creativity in Writing
- Lesson 2 : Exploring Various Written Forms and Their Creative Essence
- Lesson 3 : The Art and Soul of Poetry Writing
- Lesson 4 : Crafting Essays: A Source of Creative Bliss
- Lesson 5 : The World of Stories and Fiction
- Lesson 6 : The Spectrum of Dramatic Forms
- Lesson 7 : Novels: Diving Deep into Extended Narratives
- Lesson 8 : Writing From Experience, Acknowledging the Unknown
- Lesson 9 : Your Unique Identity as a Writer
- Lesson 10 : Embracing Writing as Therapeutic Practice
- Lesson 11 : Illusions in Writing: Separating Myths from Reality
- Lesson 12 : Culinary Arts as a Writer's Metaphor
- Lesson 13 : Writing for the Soul vs. Audience Pleasure
- Lesson 14 : Connecting Words with the Infinite
- Lesson 15 : Grappling with the Limitations and Boundlessness of Words.
Dive into the fascinating world of creative writing and uncover the artist within you.
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Lesson 1: Personal Creativity in Writing
Lesson 2: Various Written Forms and Creative Flow
Lesson 3: thoughts of writing poetry, lesson 4: easy essays for creative happiness, lesson 5: stories and fiction in general, lesson 6: dramatic forms, lesson 7: the novel novelist, lesson 8: write what you know, and admit you know nothing, lesson 9: your personality as a writer, lesson 10: creative writing as therapy, lesson 11: the ghost in the wishing well: illusions and false ideas about creative writing, lesson 12: culinary arts as allegory for the writer, lesson 13: writing to please others or yourself, lesson 14: from eternity to you, lesson 15: the impossible task of words, learning outcomes.
- Define ways to develop personal creativity in writing.
- Describe various written forms and define the creative flow.
- Demonstrate creativity through easy essays.
- Describe dramatic forms.
- Demonstrate your personality in your writing.
- Compare and contrast writing a novel versus writing a short story.
- Describe how writing can be therapeutic.
- Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.
Additional Course Information
- Document Your Lifelong Learning Achievements
- Earn an Official Certificate Documenting Course Hours and CEUs
- Verify Your Certificate with a Unique Serial Number Online
- View and Share Your Certificate Online or Download/Print as PDF
- Display Your Certificate on Your Resume and Promote Your Achievements Using Social Media
Choose Your Subscription Plan
- "I thought this was an excellent course. I love that I could complete it at my own pace, writing when my schedule permitted. Thank you!" -- Diane S.
- "I enjoyed the course. I have always written for myself. It was good to have the experience of sharing my writing. I hope to take more courses on writing. I did appreciate all the positive feedback and I thought the writing topics were very diverse and challenged me to think." -- Louise G.
- "I thought it was pretty fun. I'm taking CEU's to advance my salary as a teacher. I advise a creative writing club after school and I found this to be really helpful for potential lessons and tips." -- Dakota M.
- "I truly enjoyed this course. It helped me to see that having a career in writing is really about putting my passion for words on paper and I shouldn't base my agenda on money. Money is a plus but my focus needs to be on my passion. I gained much insight into myself and the kind of writing I want to pursue. Thank you." -- Katherine T.
- "I personally enjoyed this course, I was able to understand the material and it never made me feel overwhelmed." -- Maria C.
- "I think the lessons and assignments were great. I enjoyed getting to write and have the instructor read and grade my work. It was helpful to know that the instructor was going to read and comment on my work." -- Anthony D.
- "This course have great insights for writing, I think this course is really helpful to a writer, at the same time it give insights to read. The tests they make me think, and go deep in thoughts something I never utilized before. The course is great." -- Gamal G.
- "I loved this course and I learned so much. I would recommend this course to anyone who might be serious about writing." -- Ann M.
- "Very insightful. Helped me to grow and expand my writing ability. Loved it, thank you." -- Summer G.
- "It was great!" -- Ryan B.
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Department of English
Dietrich college of humanities and social sciences, first-year writing course options and topics.
The Writing & Communication Program has a preparatory course for multilingual students (76100) and core courses for all students to fulfill their first-year writing requirement at Carnegie Mellon (76101+). To learn about the preparatory course for multilingual students, 76100 / Reading and Writing in an Academic Context, click here .
To complete the First-Year Writing requirement, students must choose one of two pathways to register for a semester’s worth of core courses.. Each pathway has its own series of course options.
- Students who choose Pathway 1 will take two half-semester mini courses from the following three options: 76-106: Writing About Literature, Art, and Culture; 76-107: Writing About Data; and 76-108: Writing About Public Problems. For a detailed listing of the Pathway 1 course topics, schedules, and descriptions for the current or upcoming semester, click here. This information has been updated for the Spring 2024 semester, but please continue to check back in case there are changes to the course times or topics.
- Students who choose Pathway 2 will take a single, full-semester course, typically 76-101: Interpretation and Argument. For a detailed listing of the Pathway 2 course topics, schedules, and descriptions for the current or upcoming semester, click here. This information has been updated for the Spring 2024 semester , but please continue to check back in case there are changes to the course times or topics.
For students who demonstrate advanced writing skills as a first-year student, the Writing & Communication Program in English also offers a full-semester course, 76-102: Advanced First-Year Writing, Students seeking to enroll in this advanced course must participate in an application process during the summer.
After completing an Informed Placement Process, some first-year students whose first or primary language is not English may enroll in 76-100, Reading and Writing in an Academic Context. Students should complete 76-100 before choosing one of the two Pathways to fulfill their First-Year Writing requirement. For a detailed listing of the Spring 2024 course schedule for 76-100, click here . For more information about the First-Year Writing course placement process, please click here.
Spring 2024 Course Information PDFs
Pathway 1 - two mini courses, pathway 2 - one full-semester course.
- Course Schedule and Descriptions for 76-100
76-102 Advanced First-Year Writing Application
Reach out to Amy Stoebe , Assistant Director of the Writing & Communication Program at [email protected]
Choose two of three available half-semester mini course options:
76-106 — writing about literature, art, and culture, 76-107 — writing about data, 76-108 — writing about public problems.
Why Choose Pathway 1?
- Research-based curriculum
- Fresh start in the middle of the semester
- Opportunity to focus upon strategies for particular types of communication situations and target genres
- Exposure to more than one kind of writing (arts & humanities, technical, professional)
- Strategies for adapting to different communication situations
- Some students report a more dynamic structure and pace with a break at mid-semester
Learn More About Pathway 1 - Two Mini Courses
76-101 — Interpretation and Argument
76-102 — advanced first-year writing (by application only).
Why Choose Pathway 2?
- Sustained focus throughout the semester
- Opportunity to read deeply about a controversial issue or topic
- Strategies for reading, forming research questions, and writing research proposals/articles
- Some students report a flexible, "marathon" pace throughout the course, albeit with no breaks
- For 76-102 : Immersive experience into a faculty member's particular research area
Learn More About Pathway 2 - One Full-Semester Course
of Students take Pathway 1
Of students take pathway 2.
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How to Write a Novel
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31 Best Adult Creative Writing Classes in 2023
Showing writing courses curated by Reedsy.
- Science Fiction
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This directory of creative writing courses will help you find the right class for you. Simply filter by genre, price, and location to find the writing class that best fits your needs.
Best of luck! If you run a writing course and would like to get in touch with us about your class, contact us here .
Try our novel writing master class — 100% free!
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Reedsy’s flagship writing course, How to Write a Novel, demystifies the writing process so that writers of all levels, backgrounds, and genres can bring their ideas to life. With over 90 video lessons, a supportive community, and weekly live events, this course will help you write the first draft of your novel in just 3 months.
Prerequisites: No prerequisites
Class size: Unlimited
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Andrea Beginner's Creative Writing Course
This practical class will cover essential techniques to help you channel your inner creativity when inspiration and motivation are running dry. By the end of the course, you will have a writing toolkit, complete with hints and tips to support you along your writing journey. You’ll also find a supportive community and connect with other Black Women & Women of Colour writers around the globe.
Start date: January, 2024
From Submission to Shelf
A Novel Idea
The publishing process can often feel like a mystery. But there is a list of steps writers can take to draft, polish, submit, and get their manuscript published. This course will outline these steps, while also talking about what happens after the book is published.
Start date: November, 2023
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Introduction to Flash Nonfiction
In this prompt-driven workshop, we'll read short nonfiction by masters of the form; we'll talk about what stories are suited for flash, how to tell them well, and where to publish them; and most of all, we'll write and write and write, via in-class exercises and take-home prompts. Students will leave the class with reams of new writing and ideas for where to publish.
Class size: 16
Start date: September, 2023
Jumpstart Your Writing
Through a series of engaging writing exercises, we will mine our experiences and imagination for material and bring what we find to life on the page. With an eye on craft and openness to the muse, we will read and discuss short pieces, including poetry, essay, and fiction. We also will discuss the process of writing with a focus on sustainable writing practices, creative play, writer's block, creative community, reading for inspiration, and revision as generation.
Class size: 12
The Classic Storytelling Course
The Classic Course will ensure your story is packing all the ingredients of a plot readers will find spellbinding; from a cracking opening line that grabs the reader’s attention to ensuring their emotional attachment to complex main characters, clever plot development and writing that will capture the reader’s imagination page after page.
Bring Your Book to Life
“Bring Your Book to Life®” includes award-winning book writing materials, private work with a top expert in the field and your editor in-residence, 2 or more weeks to develop your concept and structure through a mix of group work and private instruction and a 10-week webinar class that has all the advantages of a live workshop.
Prerequisites: Before the first weekly class, you should have a book concept, content and structure.
How To Write A Book Online
Learn how to write a book at your own pace in the comfort of your own home with the help of your own writing coach.
Course length: 8 sessions (45 minutes)
The Write Your Memoir Course
UK Writers College
This course helps you to get to grips with the building blocks of memoir writing. You’ll learn how to present your life as a story, with a ‘big bang’ beginning, riveting middle and satisfying ending. For the duration of the seven modules, you will receive personalised feedback. It is this one-to-one mentoring that helps the most in developing your writing style and ability.
Course length: 7 modules (Self-paced)
The 100-Day Book Program
The Write Practice
100 Day Book is an online program that will guide you through the book writing process. At the end of the 100 day program, you will have a finished book, and you will have internalized a process you can use again and again to write books in the future.
Course length: Est. 100 days (Self-paced)
Adult Writers Circle
The Writers Circle
We provide a supportive environment where writers work freely on various forms and genres, exploring projects developed in class or on their own. Craft issues like structure, point-of-view, character development, pace, and style are addressed, as is the ever-changing publishing marketplace.
Course length: 11 sessions (2 hours)
Creating Complex Characters
In this class, students will explore how to bring real human depth and complexity to their characters by conceiving backstories through life-altering scenes. They will learn how to move beyond role—protagonist, opponent, sidekick, conscience figure, love interest, etc.—to the personal characteristics that make fulfillment of that role not just possible, but necessary.
Course length: 4 sessions (2 hours)
Class size: Limited
How to choose an adult creative writing class
Looking to build your writing skillset, learn more about your genre, or finally finish that book you’ve been working on? You’re in the right place. That’s why we built this directory of the best creative writing courses.
However, creative writing classes aren’t one size fit all. If you’re planning to join an adult creative writing class in particular, you’ll want to make sure that it matches what you’re seeking to learn about the genre.
So make sure to consider the following questions when you’re researching adult writing courses:
- Who is the instructor? How many years of experience do they have in writing books?
- Is there something in particular you’d like to learn in a writing class for adults? Does this course include it?
- How long is the course, and where is it taught?
- How much does the adult writing course cost? Does it fit into your budget?
More creative writing resources
Whether you’re a new or established author, there are always evergreen resources out there to how to get a headstart on writing books.
Free online materials
- Creative Writing Prompts (resource)
- Book Title Generator (resource)
- Character Name Generator (resource)
- Plot Generator (resource)
- How to Write a Novel (blog post)
- How to Edit a Book (blog post)
- For writers in the UK: Writers' & Artists' Yearbook
- For writers in the US: Writer’s Market 2020
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Writing 101: Guidelines for Teaching
While we encourage diversity in course offerings, instructors are asked to keep the following guidelines in mind as they design their courses. Students in all sections of Writing 101 should expect to:
- Read, discuss, and write in response to a series of texts—books, essays, films, etc.—addressing an issue of some real intellectual interest and complexity. Course texts should emerge organically from the course’s area of inquiry and should be challenging and generative. Ideally, some texts should serve as a model for the kind of academic writing you are asking of Writing 101 students.
- Make active and critical use of these readings in their work as writers. Whereas faculty in a discipline-based lecture course might include a relatively large number of texts as a means of mapping out a particular field, Writing 101 faculty generally make more extensive use of a fewer number of texts in order to offer students the opportunity to meaningfully grapple with the complex ideas of others. Writing 101 assignments, then, should challenge students to move beyond summary and towards application, critique, or counterstatement.
- Write frequently throughout the term. Some writing—whether a first draft, revision, section of a longer project, or some other form of work—should be due every week. New assignments usually build in some way on previous work in the term. This commits us as teachers to responding not only to the form of student writings but also to what they are trying to say—and particularly to how their work connects to the issues being taken up by the class as a whole. And if we are to offer students a real chance to rethink what they want to say and how they want to do so, we need to comment on and return their writings to them quickly—in most cases, within a week after they are submitted.
- Rethink and revise several of the writing projects they are assigned. We are also interested in teaching writing as an activity—both by making room in the course of a term for students to reflect on and rework the writings they have done, and also by making the various sorts of labor involved in drafting, revising, and editing texts part of the focus of a class.
- Have the work they do as writers be a regular, integral, and visible focus of discussion in class. A characteristic way of doing so is to center much of the talk of a class on actual student texts, to set up discussions in which student writings figure not simply as examples of good or bad work but as attempts to articulate intellectual positions that merit serious consideration and response.
Beyond these defining practices, we hope to encourage versions of Writing 101 that are as diverse as possible in the topics they explore, the forms of critical writing they encourage, and the modes of inquiry and conversation they provoke. We look forward to helping you define your own role in this collective project.
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ENG 101 E Eng Comp I: Expository Writing
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- Teacher: Trevor Kearns
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Home Numéros 59 1 - Tisser les liens : voyager, e... 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teac...
36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teaching Travel Writing and Mindfulness in the Tradition of Hokusai and Thoreau
L'auteur américain Henry David Thoreau est un écrivain du voyage qui a rarement quitté sa ville natale de Concorde, Massachusetts, où il a vécu de 1817 à 1862. Son approche du "voyage" consiste à accorder une profonde attention à son environnement ordinaire et à voir le monde à partir de perspectives multiples, comme il l'explique avec subtilité dans Walden (1854). Inspiré par Thoreau et par la célèbre série de gravures du peintre d'estampes japonais Katsushika Hokusai, intitulée 36 vues du Mt. Fuji (1830-32), j'ai fait un cours sur "L'écriture thoreauvienne du voyage" à l'Université de l'Idaho, que j'appelle 36 vues des montagnes de Moscow: ou, Faire un grand voyage — l'esprit et le carnet ouvert — dans un petit lieu . Cet article explore la philosophie et les stratégies pédagogiques de ce cours, qui tente de partager avec les étudiants les vertus d'un regard neuf sur le monde, avec les yeux vraiment ouverts, avec le regard d'un voyageur, en "faisant un grand voyage" à Moscow, Idaho. Les étudiants affinent aussi leurs compétences d'écriture et apprennent les traditions littéraires et artistiques associées au voyage et au sens du lieu.
Keywords: , designing a writing class to foster engagement.
1 The signs at the edge of town say, "Entering Moscow, Idaho. Population 25,060." This is a small hamlet in the midst of a sea of rolling hills, where farmers grow varieties of wheat, lentils, peas, and garbanzo beans, irrigated by natural rainfall. Although the town of Moscow has a somewhat cosmopolitan feel because of the presence of the University of Idaho (with its 13,000 students and a few thousand faculty and staff members), elegant restaurants, several bookstores and music stores, and a patchwork of artsy coffee shops on Main Street, the entire mini-metropolis has only about a dozen traffic lights and a single high school. As a professor of creative writing and the environmental humanities at the university, I have long been interested in finding ways to give special focuses to my writing and literature classes that will help my students think about the circumstances of their own lives and find not only academic meaning but personal significance in our subjects. I have recently taught graduate writing workshops on such themes as "The Body" and "Crisis," but when I was given the opportunity recently to teach an undergraduate writing class on Personal and Exploratory Writing, I decided to choose a focus that would bring me—and my students—back to one of the writers who has long been of central interest to me: Henry David Thoreau.
2 One of the courses I have routinely taught during the past six years is Environmental Writing, an undergraduate class that I offer as part of the university's Semester in the Wild Program, a unique undergraduate opportunity that sends a small group of students to study five courses (Ecology, Environmental History, Environmental Writing, Outdoor Leadership and Wilderness Survival, and Wilderness Management and Policy) at a remote research station located in the middle of the largest wilderness area (the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness) in the United States south of Alaska. In "Teaching with Wolves," a recent article about the Semester in the Wild Program, I explained that my goal in the Environmental Writing class is to help the students "synthesize their experience in the wilderness with the content of the various classes" and "to think ahead to their professional lives and their lives as engaged citizens, for which critical thinking and communication skills are so important" (325). A foundational text for the Environmental Writing class is a selection from Thoreau's personal journal, specifically the entries he made October 1-20, 1853, which I collected in the 1993 writing textbook Being in the World: An Environmental Reader for Writers . I ask the students in the Semester in the Wild Program to deeply immerse themselves in Thoreau's precise and colorful descriptions of the physical world that is immediately present to him and, in turn, to engage with their immediate encounters with the world in their wilderness location. Thoreau's entries read like this:
Oct. 4. The maples are reddening, and birches yellowing. The mouse-ear in the shade in the middle of the day, so hoary, looks as if the frost still lay on it. Well it wears the frost. Bumblebees are on the Aster undulates , and gnats are dancing in the air. Oct. 5. The howling of the wind about the house just before a storm to-night sounds extremely like a loon on the pond. How fit! Oct. 6 and 7. Windy. Elms bare. (372)
3 In thinking ahead to my class on Personal and Exploratory Writing, which would be offered on the main campus of the University of Idaho in the fall semester of 2018, I wanted to find a topic that would instill in my students the Thoreauvian spirit of visceral engagement with the world, engagement on the physical, emotional, and philosophical levels, while still allowing my students to remain in the city and live their regular lives as students. It occurred to me that part of what makes Thoreau's journal, which he maintained almost daily from 1837 (when he was twenty years old) to 1861 (just a year before his death), such a rich and elegant work is his sense of being a traveler, even when not traveling geographically.
Traveling a Good Deal in Moscow
I have traveled a good deal in Concord…. --Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; 4)
4 For Thoreau, one did not need to travel a substantial physical distance in order to be a traveler, in order to bring a traveler's frame of mind to daily experience. His most famous book, Walden , is well known as an account of the author's ideas and daily experiments in simple living during the two years, two months, and two days (July 4, 1845, to September 6, 1847) he spent inhabiting a simple wooden house that he built on the shore of Walden Pond, a small lake to the west of Boston, Massachusetts. Walden Pond is not a remote location—it is not out in the wilderness. It is on the edge of a small village, much like Moscow, Idaho. The concept of "traveling a good deal in Concord" is a kind of philosophical and psychological riddle. What does it mean to travel extensively in such a small place? The answer to this question is meaningful not only to teachers hoping to design writing classes in the spirit of Thoreau but to all who are interested in travel as an experience and in the literary genre of travel writing.
5 Much of Walden is an exercise in deftly establishing a playful and intellectually challenging system of synonyms, an array of words—"economy," "deliberateness," "simplicity," "dawn," "awakening," "higher laws," etc.—that all add up to powerful probing of what it means to live a mindful and attentive life in the world. "Travel" serves as a key, if subtle, metaphor for the mindful life—it is a metaphor and also, in a sense, a clue: if we can achieve the traveler's perspective without going far afield, then we might accomplish a kind of enlightenment. Thoreau's interest in mindfulness becomes clear in chapter two of Walden , "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," in which he writes, "Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?" The latter question implies the author's feeling that he is himself merely evolving as an awakened individual, not yet fully awake, or mindful, in his efforts to live "a poetic or divine life" (90). Thoreau proceeds to assert that "We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn…. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor" (90). Just what this endeavor might be is not immediately spelled out in the text, but the author does quickly point out the value of focusing on only a few activities or ideas at a time, so as not to let our lives be "frittered away by detail." He writes: "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; … and keep your accounts on your thumb nail" (91). The strong emphasis in the crucial second chapter of Walden is on the importance of waking up and living deliberately through a conscious effort to engage in particular activities that support such awakening. It occurs to me that "travel," or simply making one's way through town with the mindset of a traveler, could be one of these activities.
6 It is in the final chapter of the book, titled "Conclusion," that Thoreau makes clear the relationship between travel and living an attentive life. He begins the chapter by cataloguing the various physical locales throughout North America or around the world to which one might travel—Canada, Ohio, Colorado, and even Tierra del Fuego. But Thoreau states: "Our voyaging is only great-circle sailing, and the doctors prescribe for diseases of the skin merely. One hastens to Southern Africa to chase the giraffe; but surely that is not the game he would be after." What comes next is brief quotation from the seventeenth-century English poet William Habbington (but presented anonymously in Thoreau's text), which might be one of the most significant passages in the entire book:
Direct your eye sight inward, and you'll find A thousand regions in your mind Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be Expert in home-cosmography. (320)
7 This admonition to travel the mysterious territory of one's own mind and master the strange cosmos of the self is actually a challenge to the reader—and probably to the author himself—to focus on self-reflection and small-scale, local movement as if such activities were akin to exploration on a grand, planetary scale. What is really at issue here is not the physical distance of one's journey, but the mental flexibility of one's approach to the world, one's ability to look at the world with a fresh, estranged point of view. Soon after his discussion of the virtues of interior travel, Thoreau explains why he left his simple home at Walden Pond after a few years of experimental living there, writing, "It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves" (323). In other words, no matter what we're doing in life, we can fall into a "beaten track" if we're not careful, thus failing to stay "awake."
8 As I thought about my writing class at the University of Idaho, I wondered how I might design a series of readings and writing exercises for university students that would somehow emulate the Thoreauvian objective of achieving ultra-mindfulness in a local environment. One of the greatest challenges in designing such a class is the fact that it took Thoreau himself many years to develop an attentiveness to his environment and his own emotional rhythms and an efficiency of expression that would enable him to describe such travel-without-travel, and I would have only sixteen weeks to achieve this with my own students. The first task, I decided, was to invite my students into the essential philosophical stance of the class, and I did this by asking my students to read the opening chapter of Walden ("Economy") in which he talks about traveling "a good deal" in his small New England village as well as the second chapter and the conclusion, which reveal the author's enthusiasm (some might even say obsession ) for trying to achieve an awakened condition and which, in the end, suggest that waking up to the meaning of one's life in the world might be best accomplished by attempting the paradoxical feat of becoming "expert in home-cosmography." As I stated it among the objectives for my course titled 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Or, Traveling a Good Deal—with Open Minds and Notebooks—in a Small Place , one of our goals together (along with practicing nonfiction writing skills and learning about the genre of travel writing) would be to "Cultivate a ‘Thoreauvian' way of appreciating the subtleties of the ordinary world."
Windy. Elms Bare.
9 For me, the elegance and heightened sensitivity of Thoreau's engagement with place is most movingly exemplified in his journal, especially in the 1850s after he's mastered the art of observation and nuanced, efficient description of specific natural phenomena and environmental conditions. His early entries in the journal are abstract mini-essays on such topics as truth, beauty, and "The Poet," but over time the journal notations become so immersed in the direct experience of the more-than-human world, in daily sensory experiences, that the pronoun "I" even drops out of many of these records. Lawrence Buell aptly describes this Thoreauvian mode of expression as "self-relinquishment" (156) in his 1995 book The Environmental Imagination , suggesting such writing "question[s] the authority of the superintending consciousness. As such, it opens up the prospect of a thoroughgoing perceptual breakthrough, suggesting the possibility of a more ecocentric state of being than most of us have dreamed of" (144-45). By the time Thoreau wrote "Windy. Elms bare" (372) as his single entry for October 6 and 7, 1853, he had entered what we might call an "ecocentric zone of consciousness" in his work, attaining the ability to channel his complex perceptions of season change (including meteorology and botany and even his own emotional state) into brief, evocative prose.
10 I certainly do not expect my students to be able to do such writing after only a brief introduction to the course and to Thoreau's own methods of journal writing, but after laying the foundation of the Thoreauvian philosophy of nearby travel and explaining to my students what I call the "building blocks of the personal essay" (description, narration, and exposition), I ask them to engage in a preliminary journal-writing exercise that involves preparing five journal entries, each "a paragraph or two in length," that offer detailed physical descriptions of ordinary phenomena from their lives (plants, birds, buildings, street signs, people, food, etc.), emphasizing shape, color, movement or change, shadow, and sometimes sound, smell, taste, and/or touch. The goal of the journal entries, I tell the students, is to begin to get them thinking about close observation, vivid descriptive language, and the potential to give their later essays in the class an effective texture by balancing more abstract information and ideas with evocative descriptive passages and storytelling.
11 I am currently teaching this class, and I am writing this article in early September, as we are entering the fourth week of the semester. The students have just completed the journal-writing exercise and are now preparing to write the first of five brief essays on different aspects of Moscow that will eventually be braided together, as discrete sections of the longer piece, into a full-scale literary essay about Moscow, Idaho, from the perspective of a traveler. For the journal exercise, my students wrote some rather remarkable descriptive statements, which I think bodes well for their upcoming work. One student, Elizabeth Isakson, wrote stunning journal descriptions of a cup of coffee, her own feet, a lemon, a basil leaf, and a patch of grass. For instance, she wrote:
Steaming hot liquid poured into a mug. No cream, just black. Yet it appears the same brown as excretion. The texture tells another story with meniscus that fades from clear to gold and again brown. The smell is intoxicating for those who are addicted. Sweetness fills the nostrils; bitterness rushes over the tongue. The contrast somehow complements itself. Earthy undertones flower up, yet this beverage is much more satisfying than dirt. When the mug runs dry, specks of dark grounds remain swimming in the sunken meniscus. Steam no longer rises because energy has found a new home.
12 For the grassy lawn, she wrote:
Calico with shades of green, the grass is yellowing. Once vibrant, it's now speckled with straw. Sticking out are tall, seeding dandelions. Still some dips in the ground have maintained thick, soft patches of green. The light dances along falling down from the trees above, creating a stained-glass appearance made from various green shades. The individual blades are stiff enough to stand erect, but they will yield to even slight forces of wind or pressure. Made from several long strands seemingly fused together, some blades fray at the end, appearing brittle. But they do not simply break off; they hold fast to the blade to which they belong.
13 The point of this journal writing is for the students to look closely enough at ordinary reality to feel estranged from it, as if they have never before encountered (or attempted to describe) a cup of coffee or a field of grass—or a lemon or a basil leaf or their own body. Thus, the Thoreauvian objective of practicing home-cosmography begins to take shape. The familiar becomes exotic, note-worthy, and strangely beautiful, just as it often does for the geographical travel writer, whose adventures occur far away from where she or he normally lives. Travel, in a sense, is an antidote to complacency, to over-familiarity. But the premise of my class in Thoreauvian travel writing is that a slight shift of perspective can overcome the complacency we might naturally feel in our home surroundings. To accomplish this we need a certain degree of disorientation. This is the next challenge for our class.
The Blessing of Being Lost
14 Most of us take great pains to "get oriented" and "know where we're going," whether this is while running our daily errands or when thinking about the essential trajectories of our lives. We're often instructed by anxious parents to develop a sense of purpose and a sense of direction, if only for the sake of basic safety. But the traveler operates according to a somewhat different set of priorities, perhaps, elevating adventure and insight above basic comfort and security, at least to some degree. This certainly seems to be the case for the Thoreauvian traveler, or for Thoreau himself. In Walden , he writes:
…not until we are completely lost, or turned round,--for a man needs only be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost,--do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature. Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations. (171)
15 I could explicate this passage at length, but that's not really my purpose here. I read this as a celebration of salutary disorientation, of the potential to be lost in such a way as to deepen one's ability to pay attention to oneself and one's surroundings, natural and otherwise. If travel is to a great degree an experience uniquely capable of triggering attentiveness to our own physical and psychological condition, to other cultures and the minds and needs of other people, and to a million small details of our environment that we might take for granted at home but that accrue special significance when we're away, I would argue that much of this attentiveness is owed to the sense of being lost, even the fear of being lost, that often happens when we leave our normal habitat.
16 So in my class I try to help my students "get lost" in a positive way. Here in Moscow, the major local landmark is a place called Moscow Mountain, a forested ridge of land just north of town, running approximately twenty kilometers to the east of the city. Moscow "Mountain" does not really have a single, distinctive peak like a typical mountain—it is, as I say, more of a ridge than a pinnacle. When I began contemplating this class on Thoreauvian travel writing, the central concepts I had in mind were Thoreau's notion of traveling a good deal in Concord and also the idea of looking at a specific place from many different angles. The latter idea is not only Thoreauvian, but perhaps well captured in the eighteen-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai's series of woodblock prints known as 36 Views of Mt. Fuji , which offers an array of different angles on the mountain itself and on other landscape features (lakes, the sea, forests, clouds, trees, wind) and human behavior which is represented in many of the prints, often with Mt. Fuji in the distant background or off to the side. In fact, I imagine Hokusai's approach to representing Mt. Fuji as so important to the concept of this travel writing class that I call the class "36 Views of Moscow Mountain," symbolizing the multiple approaches I'll be asking my students to take in contemplating and describing not only Moscow Mountain itself, but the culture and landscape and the essential experience of Moscow the town. The idea of using Hokusai's series of prints as a focal point of this class came to me, in part, from reading American studies scholar Cathy Davidson's 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan , a memoir that offers sixteen short essays about different facets of her life as a visiting professor in that island nation.
17 The first of five brief essays my students will prepare for the class is what I'm calling a "Moscow Mountain descriptive essay," building upon the small descriptive journal entries they've written recently. In this case, though, I am asking the students to describe the shapes and colors of the Moscow Mountain ridge, while also telling a brief story or two about their observations of the mountain, either by visiting the mountain itself to take a walk or a bike ride or by explaining how they glimpse portions of the darkly forested ridge in the distance while walking around the University of Idaho campus or doing things in town. In preparation for the Moscow Mountain essays, we read several essays or book chapters that emphasize "organizing principles" in writing, often the use of particular landscape features, such as trees or mountains, as a literary focal point. For instance, in David Gessner's "Soaring with Castro," from his 2007 book Soaring with Fidel: An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond , he not only refers to La Gran Piedra (a small mountain in southeastern Cuba) as a narrative focal point, but to the osprey, or fish eagle, itself and its migratory journey as an organizing principle for his literary project (203). Likewise, in his essay "I Climb a Tree and Become Dissatisfied with My Lot," Chicago author Leonard Dubkin writes about his decision, as a newly fired journalist, to climb up a tree in Chicago's Lincoln Park to observe and listen to the birds that gather in the green branches in the evening, despite the fact that most adults would consider this a strange and inappropriate activity. We also looked at several of Hokusai's woodblock prints and analyzed these together in class, trying to determine how the mountain served as an organizing principle for each print or whether there were other key features of the prints—clouds, ocean waves, hats and pieces of paper floating in the wind, humans bent over in labor—that dominate the images, with Fuji looking on in the distance.
18 I asked my students to think of Hokusai's representations of Mt. Fuji as aesthetic models, or metaphors, for what they might try to do in their brief (2-3 pages) literary essays about Moscow Mountain. What I soon discovered was that many of my students, even students who have spent their entire lives in Moscow, either were not aware of Moscow Mountain at all or had never actually set foot on the mountain. So we spent half an hour during one class session, walking to a vantage point on the university campus, where I could point out where the mountain is and we could discuss how one might begin to write about such a landscape feature in a literary essay. Although I had thought of the essay describing the mountain as a way of encouraging the students to think about a familiar landscape as an orienting device, I quickly learned that this will be a rather challenging exercise for many of the students, as it will force them to think about an object or a place that is easily visible during their ordinary lives, but that they typically ignore. Paying attention to the mountain, the ridge, will compel them to reorient themselves in this city and think about a background landscape feature that they've been taking for granted until now. I think of this as an act of disorientation or being lost—a process of rethinking their own presence in this town that has a nearby mountain that most of them seldom think about. I believe Thoreau would consider this a good, healthy experience, a way of being present anew in a familiar place.
36 Views—Or, When You Invert Your Head
19 Another key aspect of Hokusai's visual project and Thoreau's literary project is the idea of changing perspective. One can view Mt. Fuji from 36 different points of views, or from thousands of different perspectives, and it is never quite the same place—every perspective is original, fresh, mind-expanding. The impulse to shift perspective in pursuit of mindfulness is also ever-present in Thoreau's work, particularly in his personal journal and in Walden . This idea is particularly evident, to me, in the chapter of Walden titled "The Ponds," where he writes:
Standing on the smooth sandy beach at the east end of the pond, in a calm September afternoon, when a slight haze makes the opposite shore line indistinct, I have seen whence came the expression, "the glassy surface of a lake." When you invert your head, it looks like a thread of finest gossamer stretched across the valley, and gleaming against the distinct pine woods, separating one stratum of the atmosphere from another. (186)
20 Elsewhere in the chapter, Thoreau describes the view of the pond from the top of nearby hills and the shapes and colors of pebbles in the water when viewed from close up. He chances physical perspective again and again throughout the chapter, but it is in the act of looking upside down, actually suggesting that one might invert one's head, that he most vividly conveys the idea of looking at the world in different ways in order to be lost and awakened, just as the traveler to a distant land might feel lost and invigorated by such exposure to an unknown place.
21 After asking students to write their first essay about Moscow Mountain, I give them four additional short essays to write, each two to four pages long. We read short examples of place-based essays, some of them explicitly related to travel, and then the students work on their own essays on similar topics. The second short essay is about food—I call this the "Moscow Meal" essay. We read the final chapter of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), "The Perfect Meal," and Anthony Bourdain's chapter "Where Cooks Come From" in the book A Cook's Tour (2001) are two of the works we study in preparation for the food essay. The three remaining short essays including a "Moscow People" essay (exploring local characters are important facets of the place), a more philosophical essay about "the concept of Moscow," and a final "Moscow Encounter" essay that tells the story of a dramatic moment of interaction with a person, an animal, a memorable thing to eat or drink, a sunset, or something else. Along the way, we read the work of Wendell Berry, Joan Didion, Barbara Kingsolver, Kim Stafford, Paul Theroux, and other authors. Before each small essay is due, we spend a class session holding small-group workshops, allowing the students to discuss their essays-in-progress with each other and share portions of their manuscripts. The idea is that they will learn about writing even by talking with each other about their essays. In addition to writing about Moscow from various angles, they will learn about additional points of view by considering the angles of insight developed by their fellow students. All of this is the writerly equivalent of "inverting [their] heads."
Beneath the Smooth Skin of Place
22 Aside from Thoreau's writing and Hokusai's images, perhaps the most important writer to provide inspiration for this class is Indiana-based essayist Scott Russell Sanders. Shortly after introducing the students to Thoreau's key ideas in Walden and to the richness of his descriptive writing in the journal, I ask them to read his essay "Buckeye," which first appeared in Sanders's Writing from the Center (1995). "Buckeye" demonstrates the elegant braiding together of descriptive, narrative, and expository/reflective prose, and it also offers a strong argument about the importance of creating literature and art about place—what he refers to as "shared lore" (5)—as a way of articulating the meaning of a place and potentially saving places that would otherwise be exploited for resources, flooded behind dams, or otherwise neglected or damaged. The essay uses many of the essential literary devices, ranging from dialogue to narrative scenes, that I hope my students will practice in their own essays, while also offering a vivid argument in support of the kind of place-based writing the students are working on.
23 Another vital aspect of our work together in this class is the effort to capture the wonderful idiosyncrasies of this place, akin to the idiosyncrasies of any place that we examine closely enough to reveal its unique personality. Sanders's essay "Beneath the Smooth Skin of America," which we study together in Week 9 of the course, addresses this topic poignantly. The author challenges readers to learn the "durable realities" of the places where they live, the details of "watershed, biome, habitat, food-chain, climate, topography, ecosystem and the areas defined by these natural features they call bioregions" (17). "The earth," he writes, "needs fewer tourists and more inhabitants" (16). By Week 9 of the semester, the students have written about Moscow Mountain, about local food, and about local characters, and they are ready at this point to reflect on some of the more philosophical dimensions of living in a small academic village surrounded by farmland and beyond that surrounded by the Cascade mountain range to the West and the Rockies to the East. "We need a richer vocabulary of place" (18), urges Sanders. By this point in the semester, by reading various examples of place-based writing and by practicing their own powers of observation and expression, my students will, I hope, have developed a somewhat richer vocabulary to describe their own experiences in this specific place, a place they've been trying to explore with "open minds and notebooks." Sanders argues that
if we pay attention, we begin to notice patterns in the local landscape. Perceiving those patterns, acquiring names and theories and stories for them, we cease to be tourists and become inhabitants. The bioregional consciousness I am talking about means bearing your place in mind, keeping track of its condition and needs, committing yourself to its care. (18)
24 Many of my students will spend only four or five years in Moscow, long enough to earn a degree before moving back to their hometowns or journeying out into the world in pursuit of jobs or further education. Moscow will be a waystation for some of these student writers, not a permanent home. Yet I am hoping that this semester-long experiment in Thoreauvian attentiveness and place-based writing will infect these young people with both the bioregional consciousness Sanders describes and a broader fascination with place, including the cultural (yes, the human ) dimensions of this and any other place. I feel such a mindfulness will enrich the lives of my students, whether they remain here or move to any other location on the planet or many such locations in succession.
25 Toward the end of "Beneath the Smooth Skin of America," Sanders tells the story of encountering a father with two young daughters near a city park in Bloomington, Indiana, where he lives. Sanders is "grazing" on wild mulberries from a neighborhood tree, and the girls are keen to join him in savoring the local fruit. But their father pulls them away, stating, "Thank you very much, but we never eat anything that grows wild. Never ever." To this Sanders responds: "If you hold by that rule, you will not get sick from eating poison berries, but neither will you be nourished from eating sweet ones. Why not learn to distinguish one from the other? Why feed belly and mind only from packages?" (19-20). By looking at Moscow Mountain—and at Moscow, Idaho, more broadly—from numerous points of view, my students, I hope, will nourish their own bellies and minds with the wild fruit and ideas of this place. I say this while chewing a tart, juicy, and, yes, slightly sweet plum that I pulled from a feral tree in my own Moscow neighborhood yesterday, an emblem of engagement, of being here.
BUELL, Lawrence, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture , Harvard University Press, 1995.
DAVIDSON, Cathy, 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan , Duke University Press, 2006.
DUBKIN, Leonard, "I Climb a Tree and Become Dissatisfied with My Lot." Enchanted Streets: The Unlikely Adventures of an Urban Nature Lover , Little, Brown and Company, 1947, 34-42.
GESSNER, David, Soaring with Fidel: An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond , Beacon, 2007.
ISAKSON, Elizabeth, "Journals." Assignment for 36 Views of Moscow Mountain (English 208), University of Idaho, Fall 2018.
SANDERS, Scott Russell, "Buckeye" and "Beneath the Smooth Skin of America." Writing from the Center , Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 1-8, 9-21.
SLOVIC, Scott, "Teaching with Wolves", Western American Literature 52.3 (Fall 2017): 323-31.
THOREAU, Henry David, "October 1-20, 1853", Being in the World: An Environmental Reader for Writers , edited by Scott H. Slovic and Terrell F. Dixon, Macmillan, 1993, 371-75.
THOREAU, Henry David, Walden . 1854. Princeton University Press, 1971.
Scott Slovic , “ 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teaching Travel Writing and Mindfulness in the Tradition of Hokusai and Thoreau ” , Caliban , 59 | 2018, 41-54.
Scott Slovic , “ 36 Views of Moscow Mountain: Teaching Travel Writing and Mindfulness in the Tradition of Hokusai and Thoreau ” , Caliban [Online], 59 | 2018, Online since 01 June 2018 , connection on 14 November 2023 . URL : http://journals.openedition.org/caliban/3688; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/caliban.3688
About the author
University of Idaho Scott Slovic is University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Humanities at the University of Idaho, USA. The author and editor of many books and articles, he edited the journal ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment from 1995 to 2020. His latest coedited book is The Routledge Handbook of Ecocriticism and Environmental Communication (2019).
By this author
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