English 310: Advanced Composition — Course Guidelines — Spring 2005 — Dr. Lance Rivers



EN310 Advanced Writing (3,0)  An exploration of the theory and practice of writing as it relates to the production of text, EN310 places emphasis on developing a conscious approach to writing. The course is designed to assist students in gaining control over the choices that create a coherent, precise, cohesive and professional text. This course may be taught on a tutorial basis. Prerequisites: a grade of C or higher in EN111 and junior standing.


My Philosophy of Writing Instruction

For most of you, writing courses have been tortuous classes in which you attempt to learn a set of standard language skills (like grammar, spelling, and punctuation), various modes of writing (like compare and contrast, exposition, and narration), something vague called “process”, and perhaps a few research skills.  Traditionally, these skills are taught without ever explaining why they’re important to writing, much less any exploration of the theory underlying them.  It’s very much like taking a course in watercolor painting without learning anything about the theory of good design, or the relationships between color and form.  In a sense, it’s learning to color in a coloring book without ever learning how to draw your own pictures.

            This is a good approach for beginning writers, and it certainly works for most (but by no means, all) of them.  But this is an Advanced Composition course.  You are no longer a beginning writer, and so it’s time to learn something about writing itself, not just tips, tricks, and strategies.  It’s time to figure out what, exactly, writing is; how writing works as communication (when it does work); how writing does not work (when it doesn’t); and most importantly, how to make writing work for you.  In short, it’s time to stop thinking like a student and begin the journey of learning to think like a writer—a good writer.

            That’s what this course is designed to teach you.  There will be no lectures in grammar or organization, audience or invention.  Instead, the half of the course will be spent reading and discussing the ideas that professional writers have had about writing.  After that, we’ll spend the rest of the semester figuring out what our own ideas about writing are, how they affect our writing, and how we can use these ideas to improve our writing. 

            This is not an average writing course.


What to Expect

The work you do in this class will be much different from that you’ve done in previous writing courses.  You can anticipate writing a lot, though you will probably write fewer actual papers than in most writing courses.  There will be research, but only into the field of writing.  Most of the work you do for this course will be uncovering your own beliefs about writing, and taking steps to fine tune the processes you find most successful.  And most importantly, the only marks I will make on your papers are ones that I ask your permission to make—all other feedback will be oral.

If you’re starting to get the idea that you’re going to be held responsible for your own learning, that I see my role as more facilitator and coach than the traditional teacher/lecturer and judge, you’re right.  My job is to create an environment for improving your writing, and to provide you with opportunities to learn something important about writing.  Period. 


Required Course Materials

            We will be using several books in this course.  These are listed in the course bibliography (in no particular order).  We’ll start with Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and proceed from there.  Generally, we’ll spend about one week on each book.

In addition to the obvious notebooks, pens, and pencils, you will need to purchase a 25% or 100% cotton fiber, bright (brilliant) white, acid-free, 24 lb., and archival quality paper.  Although I personally prefer Eaton Connoisseur (available at Office Max) or Strathmore Oriole Linen Bond (not available in the USA or Canada), these are rather expensive papers and suitable substitutes do exist—feel free to use one.  (This paper need only be used in the submission of the final draft of your portfolio, not rough drafts.)


Required Coursework and Grading

As the semester progresses, you will complete a variety of writing exercises and two actual papers.  The first of these papers is an exploration of your writing, based on a rubric I will distribute during the first couple weeks of class.  The second paper is your memoir of writing, and will be workshopped by the class during the second part of the semester.  Together, these two papers will total around 40 to 50 pages, not including rough drafts.  (N.B. These assigned topics are negotiable, so if you think you’d get more out of writing something else, let me know, and we’ll discuss it.)

Toward the end of the semester, we will discuss how teachers grade writing, and establish a set of criteria for determining your grade in this class.  Shortly after that, during finals week, you will meet with me in conference to decide what your final grade will be for the course.  As part of this grading session, you will provide a portfolio of materials drawn from your work for the semester that you think best represents your ability and philosophy as a writer, as well as what you think you’ve gotten out of the class.  This portfolio must include a selection of rough and final drafts you’ve completed for this course and an analysis of your own writing practices based on a rubric that will be distributed at the end of the semester.  It may also include writing you’ve done for other courses this semester, if you think your writing has improved significantly, and that this is demonstrated in that writing to a significant extent.

            Since this sort of grading is a scary experience for most students, you will be given the option of a midterm conference to discuss your progress in class to that point.  Mid-term grades (S or U) will be posted, based on writing you’ve done for the class up to that point.


Attendance Policy

You are permitted three unexcused absences for this course—one letter grade will be deducted from your final course grade for every unexcused absence beyond this limit.  (For example, a student with a final course grade average of “A” and six unexcused absences would receive a final course grade of “D”.)  Excused absences are given only for medical emergencies, religious observances not included on the University calendar, a death in your immediate family (i.e., parents, children, or siblings), or participation in a University sanctioned event (i.e., it’s been excused by the Provost’s Office).  All excused absences require documentation. 


Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism:

I assume that at this point of your college career you are well-acquainted with the University Policy in this regard.  If you are not, or if you have questions about how this policy will be implemented in this particular course, see the Writing Studies Committee Policy on Academic Honesty in Keys for Writers—Special Edition for Lake Superior State University by Ann Raimes. 


The Nitty-Gritty “How to Get Hold of Lance” Details

I’ll make no bones about it; I can be hard to get hold of when you most need to get hold of me.  I keep telling people that the best way to get hold of me is via email, but no one seems to believe me.  Still, I’ll continue to insist on it and hope for the best, because it’s true.  I have several email addresses, but check these two most often (at least five times a day): seraph9k@sbcglobal.net and lrivers@lssu.edu.  Include your home phone number in any email with me, in case I decide your question can be best answered that way. 

            My office phone number is 635-2116; I will make my home phone number available once the class has settled in and those students who are going to drop the course have done so.  Don’t let a long distance phone call stand in the way of getting the help you need!  If calling me is a long distance call, drop me an email with your phone number, your question, and a plea for mercy in it.  I’ll call you back.  Long distance calls to my home will not last more than 3 minutes—if it looks like it’s going to take longer than that, I’ll call you back.  (I can write it off on my taxes, and I need the deduction!J)


Booklist for EN310: Advanced Writing

Spring 2005


Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life.  rpt. n.c.: Perennial, 1990.

Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life. New York: Bantam, 1990.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Pocket Books, 2002.

L’Engle, Madeleine.  Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life. Carole F. Chase, compiler. Writer’s Palette. n.c.: Shaw, 2001.

Tan, Amy. The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. n.c.: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003.

Zinsser, William.  On Writing Well, 25th Anniversary: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (rpt. of On Writing Well).  n.c.: HarperResource, 2001.

---. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Revised Edition. n.c.: Mariner Books, 1998.