4 Self as Writer

Reader-Writer Notebook/Journal: Responding to Essays/Creative Nonfiction (PDF)

Suggested length of each journal entry: 1-1 1/2 typed pages, double-spaced.

The purpose of the notebook/journal is to help you to “read as a writer,” paying careful attention to the ways in which authors craft their pieces to address an intended audience(s).  Each class you usually will submit one short journal entry on an assigned reading. Some journal assignments will be given out in class.  However, in other journal entries, you can choose how to focus on one or more aspects of the writer’s craft.  These entries will help prepare you for class discussions as well as your own writing. Sometimes I will ask one or two students to distribute copies of a journal assignment(s) to the class to stimulate discussion.

Here are some general questions to consider in reading essays for class. In writing (unassigned) journal entries, you will probably only focus on a few of these questions. However, thinking about all of them will help you prepare for class. Later in the term, I will distribute a response guideline sheet for the short stories that we read.

  • What is/are the potential meanings of the title? How does the writer introduce the essay?
  • What is the general tone of the piece – persuasive, angry, informative/neutral, ironic, humorous? What kind of language(s) does the writer use – direct and simple, colloquial, abstract/”high academic”, personal/confessional, humorous? Does the tone shift over the course of the essay? What’s the effect(s) on you as a reader? What is your impression of the writer/narrator?
  • How vividly does the writer draw upon memories of personal experience or the experiences of others? In what ways does the writer employ the tools of fiction (setting, character, dialogue)? How does the writer use imagery, symbol and metaphor?
  • What sections, paragraphs, words or sentences seem especially significant? Why? How does the writer use repetition – of words, phrases, sentences or passages – in the piece?
  • What’s the central point of the piece?
  • How does the writer end the essay? What do the introduction and conclusion as “bookends” of the piece suggest about how to read the essay?
  • How do you see this essay as connecting with other readings (for the course or outside), experiences you’ve had, and issues that you’ve thought about?
  • What have you learned as a writer from this piece? Are there any narrative techniques that you are working with (or would like to work with) in your own writing?

Writer’s Letter Assignment (PDF)

Suggested length: 1-1 1/2 typed pages, double-spaced.

Throughout the semester, I will ask you to keep a constant finger of the pulse of your own work with each writing assignment.  As I read your work, I will do so developmentally, considering your progress from the previous assignment and your goals for the next one.  We open the term, then with a reflection on your own experiences with writing: what has worked for you so far as a writer, what aspects of your writing are satisfying to you versus those which are less so, what you hope to accomplish in this course and so on.Please take a half-hour to an hour to create a portrait of yourself as a writer. These questions are intended as a guide. Don’t answer these questions in a list-like fashion! Create an engaging and readable narrative.

Some Questions to Consider:

  • How often do you write (a) for courses/assignments (b) for pleasure (c) for other purposes (e.g. job, student publication)? How often do you wish you wrote?
  • What do you like to read? Are there any specific authors who have inspired you as a writer?
  • Does the experience of writing vary for you with different types of writing e.g., technical, expository, diary, fiction)? If “yes”, say more.
  • How would you characterize yourself as a writer (this characterization may differ with specific kinds of writing such as technical and scientific writing, poetry, science fiction, etc.)? How do you think others see you as a writer?
  • What “writing rituals” (e.g. place to write, music, etc.) do you have?
  • What influences have been most helpful for you as a writer (e.g. friends/family, classes, religious, political)?
  • What has your experience in writing or English classes been like?
  • What are your goals for yourself as a writer this term?


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