USF Writing Studio

Archive for September, 2015


How to Handle a Creative Writing Session

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

In the event that you are taking on a session with a creative writer at the Writing Studio, you’ll want to feel confident and prepared to ask the right questions or guide the writer along the way. Like all sessions, you’ll still want to start with the preliminary questions: 

Have you been here before? What are you working on? Is it for a class? Is there a specific prompt or guideline? 
Importantly, you’ll want to ask the writer what genre they’re working on. The main genres circulating now are fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and comics. Below are steps on approaching each genre.

Fiction and Creative Non-fiction:

These two genres may be grouped together because they’re actually quite similar. Both are predominantly concerned with telling a good story. One major difference is that one should be true and the other can be imagined or created. But, both are working with plot, story arc, and turns; things that progress the story and make it interesting.

You can look at the differences this way, too: Fiction is creating or imagining story and chaos where Creative Non-Fiction is making sense or creatively arranging the chaos that happens in everyday life.
Nonetheless, things to talk to your writer about will be these major elements of craft: plot, story arc, and turns. Minor, but still important elements of craft, will be things like setting, scene, and characterization; things that, if more specific vs. vague or general, make the story better. This is actually important in all writing—the need for specifics in place of vague or general ideas.


Poets will mainly be writing in Free Verse or Form. Free Verse means that the poem has no rules, thus the writer has no rules or form to follow. They are absolutely free to play with the line breaks, the tabs or spacing, the visual aesthetics, and the word choice. Form poetry will come in the way of Sonnets or Villanelles or any other type of poetry that has rules or follows a specific form, meter, or rhyme scheme. For these, it’s important to know the rules for each type. Luckily, you can look these up or check the Handbook of Poetic forms, the book we have here in the Writing Studio.

More generally, poetry is concerned with word choice, sound, rhythm, and line break. Because poetry is often short, the attention to detail and connotation of chosen words is extremely important. As for sound and rhythm, it’s great to have the writer read aloud, and for you to then read aloud as well, so that you both have an opportunity to hear how the words are melding together. Does it sound awkward? Is it a tongue twister? Is there too much alliteration? Where the line breaks is also an important factor as the reader’s eye will focus on the last word in the line. Usually, a good rule of thumb is to suggest to break the line on an image word, or a more meaningful word than an article or a word like “of” or “the.” It can be more effective to end the word on an image. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Richard Siken’s line from Anyway:

“He was pointing to the

moon but I was looking at his hand.”

The line breaks on the word “the” which creates an emphasis on the word “the,” but the word “the” is not significant to the poem, but rather a tool to get to and image. It would be more effective to form the line like this:

“He was pointing to the moon

but I was looking at his hand.”

The line is now breaking on the word “moon” which gives emphasis to the word “moon,” provoking an image. This is just one tip that can be helpful to give to students who are bringing in poetry.


Comics are picking up steam as a genre. 

*A note on the term: Some people also call these “Graphic Novels” but it’s important to note that cartoonists and Comics writers prefer the term “Comics” in place of “Graphic Novels.” This is because the term “Graphic Novel” was given to the genre by marketers aiming to elevate the genre, so that people wouldn’t think that it was immature or young, like the comic books you may have read as a kid. Cartoonists today prefer for their work to not be referred to as “Graphic Novels,” arguing that you should just call them what they are: Comics, instead of trying to elevate the genre or make it loftier than it is. 

If you are given a Comic by a creative writer, it’s important to look at the work page by page. Are the panels in a logical order? Does the action that’s happening between the panels make since? Are you, the reader, confused about what order to read the panels in? These are some basic questions to ask as there can be confusion, at times, with panel order in Comics. 
General information for all genres:
Whatever genre you are working with, it’s important to look for holes in the story, or places that don’t make sense. Could one area be clearer? Could the language be more specific? Could the writer do more showing instead of telling? Could they use more images and less abstractions? 
If you ask these questions, there’s no way you won’t help your creative writer. 

By Annalise Mabe, MFA Creative Writing


Facing Obstacles To Helping Students With Personal Essays

Monday, September 21st, 2015 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

This year I’ve faced some push-back regarding personal essay writing that I did not notice last year. More than one student has resisted following the three-part format on our handout. The three dissenters I consulted cited wanting to be original and have a personal statement that is different from everyone else’s as the reason they did not want to follow a format. The irony is, before we workshopped their writing, their personal statements were full of generalities and cliches and lacking truly original content.

The way I approached this obstacle was by emphasizing that the format we suggest for personal essays allows for a lot of originality, especially with the “hook” beginning. I encouraged the students to think about something about themselves related to the discipline of the graduate program they’re applying to that no other student could say and then to write about that as their “hook.” I explained as long as they found a unique angle and dug in deep, their essay would be original.

Each time a student pushed back against the personal essay format, I found it easier to convince them to adhere to the format in a shorter amount of time. Just a couple sentences about how beginning with something personal and unique will stand out to the graduate program admissions committee is enough to get most people to at least begin their essays with a personal hook.

Many students come in with essays that contain a lot of information that is essentially their resumes in sentence form. I view this as a very rough version of the second part of the personal statement in our format–the part where the student explains what makes her a good candidate. For this, I explain that the graduate committee is going to be rushing to read a high volume of personal statements and doesn’t want to take extra time to analyze the meaning of all of this info. Although the student might think it’s obvious why their past experiences make them a good candidate, I encourage them to spell it out and explicitly write that X experience will make them a good graduate student because of Y. When I tell them many graduate committees will not take time to figure out Y on their own, the students are much more willing to reframe this section. I assure them that they won’t sound arrogant as long as they use professional language and don’t make any grandiose claims. Now the student is on board with 2/3rds of our personal essay format.

For the final 1/3rd, I explain to the student that because of the economy, there have been many more people going to graduate school in recent years less because they are passionate about it and more because they can’t find a job or aren’t yet ready to face the “real world.” I explain that a graduate committee will be trying to weed out the students who don’t know why they’re going to graduate school, which is why it’s important to explicitly write details about what the students plans to do in school and beyond. Just a few sentences and then they’re on board with part three of our format. By this point, we are working toward an essay that fits our format and is also much more original than the one the student brought in.

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