Saturday, July 26, 2008

New Course Announcement: Apprenticeship Writing Workshop

NEW!! Apprenticeship Writing Workshop Part One with CriterionSM Service $175 (Introductory Price)

Designed for more advanced students desirous of working on their writing style and experimenting with creativity and invention. Both parts of this workshop use Gregory Roper’s The Writer’s Workshop: Imitating Your Way to Better Writing, which students should purchase on their own. Students and the instructor will complete approximately eighteen assignments of from 50 to 400 words (about 5000 words total in submitted work) and share them with other workshop participants, commenting on one another’s work. “Part One: Foundations” includes exercises using models from Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Dickens, Hemingway, Joyce, Sojourner Truth, Moses, and the Apostle Paul. Writers will consider the effects of small decisions in writing, reflect on Impressionism and Realism, Rhetorical forms, law and morality, authority, and invention.

Letter grades will be assigned to a final portfolio of selected assignments, and I suggest ½ credit for this workshop. CriterionSM Service is included to give students access to the online workshop space and to provide additional practice with essays through graduate school level.

Please visit my blog at to see my own work on two assignments—July 16 and 17, 2008.

Part Two of the Apprenticeship Writing Workshop will be available by late 2008 to those who have completed Part One. It continues with Roper’s “Part Two: Precision Tools and Finer Crafts” and involves close work with Logic, Argument and Negotiation using models from Aquinas, Cicero, a Pope, and a King. This is Rhetoric in action, a great apprenticeship for aspiring serious writers. This workshop introductory price is $150 and it, too, is approximately ½ credit with assignments totaling about 5000 words.

Please visit my website below to learn more!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mini Review of *The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease* by Susan Wise Bauer

Renee Mathis pointed me in the direction of Susan Wise Bauer's new book series, The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease Instructor Text. Visit that link and read the sample pages from the chapters "Why Writing Fails" and "The Three Stages." I agree quite a bit with SWB, though she advocates saving the Progymnasmata (see my own web site for that :-) ) for the last years of high school, treating them as advanced tools to be used when the student has a good understanding of how to use them. I believe the Progymnasmata can be introduced in the elementary years in a small way and worked on as profitable exercises in themselves in middle school. So that's how I use them. But I think her overall observations of the state of student (college) writing today match my own, and I think her prescription is a good way to deal with the problem. I intend to use some of her ideas with my youngest, entering fifth grade this year.

So check it out--see what you think--and let me know! :-)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Definition Exercise--Creative Imitation, Part Two

See July 16 post for Part One

Exercise 3.6
“Contentment” on the model of Sojourner Truth’s “A’n’t I A Woman?”

(First, I outlined the basic structure of Truth’s argument, then used that structure for my own. Because I do not have the drama to set up the argument, I begin a different way and wind up with a reference to it to tie everything together.)

On Deal or No Deal, now on NBC, or the old Let’s Make a Deal, a contestant comes to a suspense-filled decision, at a point at the top of the roller coaster: Will you keep what you have or cast it away for the unknown Other, the Possibility? What is behind that curtain, what’s in that case?

The one who chooses the modest thing he knows or thinks he knows holds interest for us only if what he passed up is worse, or if we crave seeing his disappointment at what he lost. But the contestant so resolved often crosses his arms against his chest or puts his hand on the case, illustrating with his body language the original meaning of “contentment”—“I’ll hold with this.”

Some say contentment comes with true grit, determination, hard work, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Yes, that satisfaction is a part of contentment, and does come with the knowledge that we’ve worked hard. But how often does that hard work miss the point of contentment and become focused on itself, on the sweat and the clenched fist? Better to hold loosely, easily, what comes of our work.

Others say contentment is just bearing up with What Is, being realistic, not expecting much. But how easily this becomes bitter cynicism, a drafty emptiness. The hands are missing something—half empty rather than enjoying the half full.

Still others suggest that we must be unselfish and not measure our contentment by what we have, even if it’s just a little, but we must give it all away. We must abase ourselves, claim to deserve nothing even to the point of turning away what is offered, in apathy. But what sterility there is in this kind of emptiness—no material for growth, or for sharing with a smile and enjoying something WITH another person.

If these misunderstandings of contentment were put together we’d have tension, emptiness, stagnation. But Spirit-led contentment brings freedom, fullness, and growth, which the fist, the empty hand, and the downturned hand don’t have. The case and the curtain hide secrets, surprises. But the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and every knee will bow to Him, and He sees and cares for the lily and the sparrow. Godliness with contentment brings great gain. I’ll hold with this.

© Cindy Marsch

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Definition Exercise--Creative Imitation

I have been reviewing The Writer’s Workshop by Gregory L. Roper for possible course development, and doing the exercises myself. I found a real winner yesterday, and I wanted to share what I have done with it.

Exercise 3.3
Definition of “Contentment” on the model of I Corinthians 13.

The students are asked to do a close reading of the Bible passage, taking notes on its macrostructure and microstructure, then creating a definition of another term using that structure. I found the analysis itself taught me a lot about Paul's original--how "tongues, prophecy, knowledge" are echoed later in the note that these things will fade away, and even in the description of a child's speech and thought compared with those of a mature person. I used the three elements myself to show a contrast to contentment in its counterfeits--hard work, apathy or cynicism, and asceticism.

My Best Version

Though I have true grit, determination, and a good work ethic, if I do not have contentment, in the end I am left only with sweat and a clenched fist.

And though I have a realistic view of the world, expecting little, but have no contentment, I have only bitter emptiness.

And though I humble and abase myself, requiring little, refusing to care, without contentment I cannot grow or enjoy the little I have.

Contentment puts up with a lot and still shares, does not envy others’ good, does not pride itself on being satisfied with a little;

Doesn’t push its way into good fortune or grumble or suspect its neighbors;

Does not feel glee in another’s house fire but in his neighbors’ prizes and raises and prize roses.

Contentment satisfies. Realism, asceticism, even hard work leave emptiness.

For these are slender, futile, pale.

But when the rich fullness comes, these ghosts will flee.

When I started my adulthood, I worked hard, cultivated realism, disciplined myself to do with less. But in the Spirit I see there is so much to enjoy!

For now we feel privation, a tinge of envy, the frustration of a fallen world, but then we will know feasting, fullness, all in all.

And even now in our hearts grow faith, hope, love—and contentment is to rejoice in all of these.

© Cindy Marsch

I highly recommend this kind of exercise! I came up with some other terms that could be profitably defined on this model: mercy, courage, kindness, honor, care, loyalty, faithfulness, patriotism, selflessness (see Lewis on "unselfishness"), justice, cleanliness, purity, honesty, gentleness, self control, piety, trustworthiness, neatness, punctuality, fitness, health, moderation, passion, creativity, consistency, calm, energy, quietness, spunk, liveliness, wit, humor, cleverness, and intelligence. I thought of them in this order, and I'm sure I could go on!

If you're interested in a course of such exercises, stay tuned to my web site!

Elements of Good Fiction

It's been a while since I've posted--must be summer! I have been working on writing myself, though--more later on that.

This morning I read a useful piece I want to park here for myself and others, on the elements of good fiction. The author cites several classic books to make his point, and I like that. Darin Strauss, in, writes "Notes on Narrative," including the following little blurb:

Theme is the trickiest thing to think about, because it can lead to theme-mongering, or preaching. The beauty of fiction lies not in argument but "in the unconscious self-revelation of people, in the sight of them floundering amid their own words, and performing strange strokes as they swim about, with no visible shore, in their own lives. In art you become familiar with due process," Saul Bellow writes in Ravelstein. "You can't simply write people off or send them to hell." The mistake, as James Wood puts it, is to assume you are too smart for storybooks. Don't, in other words, use fiction to win an argument or to advance a political idea. That's what essays are for.