Major In Focus: Creative Writing

Major In Focus: Creative Writing

So what do Creative Writing majors study anyway?

Over the next three weeks, I will be giving a focused look into each of the three majors that I have declared at UPJ. What I describe will be based upon the curriculum at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown specifically, and it may not line up with the curriculums at other schools. I recommend that students interested in studying Creative Writing look up the curriculums used by the schools at which they are applying/transferring to or that they currently attend.

If one wishes to be more specific, this major is actually a major in Writing with the Creative track, as opposed to the Professional track, selected. There are a good number of differences between the two tracks, and I discuss those here as well.

Both writing tracks require that students take both Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Professional Writing, preferably early on. I took Intro to Creative Writing my first semester. The course broke down into four genre intros: the play, the creative nonfiction essay, the short story, and the poem. Students wrote a ten-page play, a 1,500ish-word essay, a 1,500ish-word story, and three poems during the semester-long course. The textbook we used gave general insight into each of these four genres. While the information presented was fairly basic, most of it went beyond what one is likely to learn in high school English classes. Intro to Professional Writing followed a similar format, but in that course, which I took my second semester, we worked on an action plan, a review, a press release, a group proposal, and a digital portfolio. While both intro courses differ in content depending upon who the professor is, Intro to Professional Writing seems to contain a more diverse array of possible assignments. When I took the course, I was able to cross-pollinate my professional writing with my creative writing, interviewing a creative writer and editor for my action plan, evaluating an SF magazine issue for my review, covering a YA horror novel for my press release, creating an internal editor-to-publisher document for my proposal (working with a partner), and including stories and story-related materials in my digital portfolio. I gained a great number of new skills in these introductory courses. The intermediary tricks afforded by the classes can aid general writing skills when in the right hands. For the layman, Intro to Professional Writing could be a good choice for fulfilling General Education requirements. Composition II is supposed to be a prerequisite to take either intro course, but Writing majors can get around the prerequisite, at least in cases similar to mine.

Three Tier II English Writing courses are required for majors in both tracks, but the lists are different, with the only overlapping course being Creative Nonfiction Writing. Tier II classes are supposed to be taken after both intro courses have been passed, but that need not always be the case. The list of courses for the Creative track is as follows: Creative Nonfiction Writing, Fiction Writing, Poetry Writing, Playwriting, and Digital Poetry. In Fiction Writing, I was required to write four stories in the range of roughly four to 10 pages. Students also read short stories to glean writing tips directly from examples. Workshops within the class occurred for two class meetings prior to stories two through four reaching their due dates. In Playwriting, students write several short plays. The course is cross-listed with Theatre, so it can be taken as an English Writing class or as a Theatre class, but not as both. My enrollment in Playwriting drastically improved my playwriting skills. In Digital Poetry, the focus is placed on skills and theory a bit more than on simple creation. Making digital poems doesn't have to be difficult, but it does require different sorts of skills than are utilized in other writing classes. I learned how to do some basic coding in that class, for instance. The distinction between "traditional poetry" and "digital poetry" can be difficult to navigate, so time must be spent studying that distinction. What is discovered can, to some extend, expand students' understanding of digital works of all kinds. I took Digital Poetry to fulfill a requirement of my Multimedia & Digital Culture major simultaneously with my fulfillment of a Tier II Creative Writing course. Creative Nonfiction Writing and Poetry Writing I will leave to other students. The personal essay is my least-favorite form of expression, and Poetry Writing would be slightly redundant with Digital Poetry and Advanced Poetry Writing already under my belt. Jumping over to the Tier II Professional Writing courses for a moment, I have taken Writing for Digital Media and may take Public Relations I (which is actually a Journalism course) in the future. The former is a requirement for my Multimedia major, and the latter is an option. Writing for Digital Media is probably the course with the most relevance to laymen (that is, students who don't have a serious interest in a major or minor in writing). It can be adapted to a wide range of talents and pursuits.

As for the third and final tier of writing classes, both tracks again require three courses. These lists are a bit longer, with 13 options for Creative and nine options for Professional. Playwriting can actually be counted as a Tier II or a Tier III Creative Writing course, and the amount of work involved seemed to me to be a good bit higher than that found in the other Tier II classes I've completed. Still, there are other Tier III classes I would like to take. So far, I have only taken Advanced Poetry Writing at Tier III. The course required a lot of poetry reading, and the readings were focused mainly on five books from five authors, rather than a smattering from a bunch of different authors. For the class, we wrote poems and workshopped as we went, and at the end of the course, we turned in a portfolio of seven poems or more. My poem-writing skills improved drastically from this course. In the fall, I will be taking Advanced Writing Seminar. From what I can tell, students in the class choose a genre and write in that the whole way through, with class workshops containing pieces out of any or all genres, depending upon those chosen by the class members. Assuming I am indeed required to choose, I will most likely pick fiction as my genre. Advanced Writing Seminar can currently count as a Tier III class for either track. Rumor has it (straight from professors' mouths), the class will actually be a separate required course for incoming students in the fall. For my third Tier III class, I will select a course that will also help me with my Multimedia major. My top choice, at the moment, is Digital Magazine Production.

In addition to writing classes, both writing tracks require several literature courses. Some schools may offer a major titled "English" rather than separate majors in Creative Writing and English Literature, and those English majors may resemble UPJ's Creative Writing major heavily (though they might also allow for more literature classes than writing classes in fulfillment of the major requirements). English Literature majors at UPJ do not have to take a single writing class to graduate, beyond Composition I and Composition II. Well, it is what it is. Survey of English Lit 2 and American Literary Traditions 2 are required by students of both writing tracks, while Survey of English Lit 1 is also a requirement for Creative Writing majors. These survey courses cover spans of time, and the courses labeled "1" do not need to be taken before those labeled "2." While Creative Writing majors must take two additional English literature electives, Professional Writing majors need only take one. Yet Professional trackers are not home free with two fewer required courses than Creative trackers. A 15-credit related area is also needed to take the Professional track to its end.

Creative Writing was the first major that I declared, back when I applied at UPJ. It has challenged me to expand my writing skills ever farther. At this point, I can at least dabble in most forms of writing. In the end, I will come very close to fulfilling the requirements of both tracks. As you may see, one need not have a one-track mind when studying writing, and with as few required courses as there are for either track, it is very possible to cover both, though I'm not sure if one can actually major in both at UPJ.

I hope that this article may serve to illustrate the content and character of a Creative Writing undergraduate program and that it may aid students who are unsure of what program they wish to declare as their first, second, or third major. I have but one disclaimer: while Creative Writing may be less challenging, on the average, than certain other undergraduate majors, it does require rigorous writing skill and the ability to revise on a high level and quickly. It isn't a simple cop-out by any means.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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10 Steps To Committing In The New Semester

We all make the same mistakes along the way.

It seems that every semester I make roughly the same mistake: I get so excited to come back to school and see everybody, I forget about the (necessary) evil of classes. Now, I'm a girl who loves class–I enjoy what I'm registered for, and I genuinely like to learn–but the fact of the matter is, at the beginning of the semester it feels like you have a lot more free time and availability than you actually do.

As a result, you end up signed up to do just about everything under the sun, never considering the delicate balancing (or juggling) act that will no doubt ensue. Everybody goes through the same ten steps...

1. Returning to campus.

You get back to campus and it's an instant reunion–you can't wait to see everybody, they can't wait to see you. Basically, it's just a really great time.

2. Hearing about new opportunities.

Whether it's a new job, a new club, a new dance troupe or just a new friend, chances are the beginning of the semester is the time to find them. Everything achieves maximum priority at this time of year, because literally everything seems important. In other words, chances are, everything is a big deal, and, subsequently, you want to be involved in all of it, which leads to...

3. Being excited about all these newfound interests.

You just can't wait to get involved with every. single. thing.

4. Feeling ~put-together~ because of your ability to juggle so much new stuff.

You feel totally at peace. You've managed to invest yourself in everything on campus, you enjoy it all, and you're still managing somehow to make straight A's.

5. But then, all of this new stuff is like:

All of a sudden though, it's midterm season. You realize you have not yet taken the necessary time to calculate all the various ways you need to spread yourself too thin. Once you do...

6. Mass panic.

You have no idea how to put an end to the chaos you've created, but you know you need to act fast.

7. You get back on top of it all.

Turns out, the panic wasn't really necessary. You make it through, and come out the other side as a hero. Go you!

8. Cutting back a little bit.

Much as you hate to admit it, you signed up for too much. It's a tale as old as time, because you just can't do everything at once. You pick your favorite involvements and move on from there.

9. Finding the things you really enjoy.

Once you figure out what you like best on campus, you can devote yourself to that... Until next semester at least.

10. Getting excited to take on 2018 and a new semester with all your newfound interested and pals by your side.

Now that all the kinks are worked out, you're ready for this year to be your best yet.

Here's to a new semester. Let's get out there, overcommit, regroup, and make this year our best yet everybody!

Cover Image Credit: Author's photo

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What's All The Hype About Syllabus Week For?

I've already had three professors email me their syllabi and assign work that's due for the first day of classes.

Syllabus week, or "sylly week", as some call it, is supposed to be the best week for a party in college. I've seen countless memes about syllabus week, where classes only last 10 minutes and no work is done. I have some friends that say they don't even need to go to class during syllabus week because it's pointless... Excuse me, but what the heck?! I'm not going to name names of other schools, but I can tell you for sure I've never experienced anything like this. Not even close.

I've already had three professors email me their syllabi and assign work that's due for the first day of classes. I have books I need to buy a week in advance, read and finish, before walking in the door the first day of classes.

I'm not complaining, I'm just confused. Why would a professor go through all the trouble of driving to the school, parking, and walking to class just to stay for 10 minutes, read two pieces of paper and then leave? Besides wasting their own time, they're wasting the students time and money.

If I scheduled a class from 11:00 to 12:15 then that's all I have planned to do in that time and I'm not missing anything if I sit there the whole time and learn like I planned to do. Sure a shortened class is great and now you can go back to your room and take a nap.

But unless you're a freshman and didn't make your own schedule, there's a 99% chance you already scheduled time for a nap. And if you didn't, that's your own fault.

Plus, from what I've seen, people go out on weeknights whether is syllabus week or not. So what makes syllabus week more special? Is it because it's the first week back from break? Because you haven't gone out with your friends in a month? I'm really looking for answers here.

Thus far, I've experienced three syllabus weeks, and I'm about to embark on my fourth and there's nothing I've noticed that makes it any more special than any other week in the semester.

I'd even go as far to say syllabus week is lowkey kind of stressful. If you procrastinated ordering books, you're praying Amazon Prime can get them to you before class. You need all new notebooks for professors that don't allow laptops in class. And my least favorite things, class introductions.

Sure there's the easy: Name, Hometown, and Major. If your professor really wants to amp it up, they're going to ask you to throw in a fun fact about yourself.

Fun facts are the bane of my existence because I always forget what I said last time I was asked and have to think of something new. You have to think of something quickly and hope no one else takes it before you. I have had professors make me say something new because someone else had it, or call other people out for not having "fun enough" facts.

And there's always one or two kids in every class that come prepared with things that blow everyone away.

Moral of the story: syllabus week is just like every other week to me. Who knows though, maybe one day I'll experience the greatness that is "sylly week". But until then I'll be arriving to class on the first day having read the syllabus, done the homework, and hopefully prepped with a good fun fact.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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