How to Fulfill Your CS Major Writing Requirement Or, At Least Half of It

This creative essay was written for Introduction to Fiction and Poetry Writing with Joshua Malbin during the first semester of my first year at Johns Hopkins University. It was intended to be a personal review of the class.

Carlos Macasaet
December 5, 2001
IFP — Writing Assignment 11

How to Fulfill Your CS Major Writing Requirement Or, At Least Half of It

First, discard the notion of hating English that you’ve harbored throughout high school and take confidence in your ability to write essays. Forget the fact that you got a D on your first essay for Rites of Passage freshman year. Don’t worry that you got C’s on all the rest of the essays even after your teacher promised you that your writing would improve. Don’t worry that you averaged a C on all your essays in history and English sophomore year. Instead take comfort in the fact that you got your first A on an essay when you discussed the Economic Development of New York in the Mid-Nineteenth Century in the second semester junior year. Besides, you got A’s on all (four) of your essays senior year. Having done this, you will immediately discard the notion of taking Expository Writing which would introduce you to academic composition through a variety of essay types.

Now you decide to take Introduction to Fiction and Poetry Writing (IFP), a course that sounds interesting. Indicate it on your registration card and mail it in as soon as possible because you just love to write. Or do you? Remember all of the short stories that you wrote. There was the one that you wanted to start in first grade. You asked your mother if you could borrow the typewriter. You loaded the paper and stared at it. After a minute, you’ve typed your name. Half and hour later, The Rescue Rangers was showing on Fox so you rushed to the TV. In fifth grade you enrolled in a creative writing workshop at the local library. You hated it. In the story that you wrote, you created a plot that made absolutely no sense and named your characters after X-Men. In eighth grade, you got so excited about writing a mini novel. You decided it would be about time travel and you would give it the title Time. The plot wasn’t nearly as intriguing as you hoped it would be. But what about that story you wrote at the end of senior year? The five-pager with a very intriguing plot and exciting fight scenes. Well, it was basically a retelling of the anime series Trigun.

At this point, you realize that you have no creative ability whatsoever. You remember that you’ve never been able to compose music either. Plus, you hate poetry — most poetry at any rate. So you spend the whole summer regretting your decision to take IFP. When you meet with your teacher for the first time, immediately express your concerns about taking the class but be quick to let him know that you are looking forward to giving it a try. Don’t worry though, IFP will turn out to be one of your easiest classes.

Now IFP meets in three fifty-minute sessions a week. On Monday and Tuesday, you will have a reader response due. These are similar to the ones that you had to write senior year, but this time, he expects them to be typed.

Reading responses really are not worth that much. You do them all the night before they are due. Most likely Jake, your suitemate, will start his at around 10:00pm while you are doing calculus with some friends. He will come into your room a couple of times to ask you questions about the reading and what you thought of this and that. When you finally sit down to type yours, on occasion, you might panic because you did not understand the reading and you really don’t know what to write. But then you remember that the worst thing that could happen would be that you get a check minus, which, after having handed in numerous responses that clearly showed a lack of effort, has not yet happened.

The idea behind the reader responses is that when you meet in class, you will be able to discuss the night’s reading. You’ll be surprised however, how silent the class can be. It probably has something to do with the fact that it meets at 9:00am. But do not worry. Soon, these awkward silences will be comfortable. Just don’t look at the teacher and he probably won’t call on you.

You won’t take notes in class, so don’t bother investing in a notebook. You might want to get a folder for the handouts, but there aren’t so many that you will need a binder. Instead, take a folder to class everyday. Put in it, all of your IFP related materials, then when you get back to your room, deposit all of them in a hanging file folder. You won’t need them again until the end of the term.

Now, on Wednesdays, you will be required to turn in a writing assignment. You should probably start these as soon as they are assigned. That way, you could spend a couple days composing it, then put it aside for a while and come back to it later for revision. This is a good strategy, however, you will never employ it. You’ll procrastinate on the first assignment and end up writing it the night before it’s due. You’ll vow never to do that again, but you’ll end up doing all of the assignments on Tuesday nights anyway. But don’t worry; you’ll get A’s on most of them. You’ll even manage to get B’s on the absolutely terrible ones that you feel should get lower marks.

In addition to receiving a writing assignment on Wednesday, the class will workshop three people’s pieces. If your piece is being workshopped, you don’t have to worry as you will just sit there and listen while the others discuss your work. Your work is pretty straightforward; there’s not much to get. When they read your poetry, they may find some deep meaning, or perhaps find that you somehow manipulated the words in your poetry to achieve a desirable effect in the reader. However, these are all coincidences. Just be sure not to take them out when you revise them. At the end, you will be asked if you have any questions. You will have none.

If you are not being workshopped, you will just be expected to discuss the pieces. Read your peers’ compositions with a pen in hand. Make comments as you go. At the bottom of the last page or on the back, summarize your thoughts toward the piece. Be completely honest, but tactful. Also sign your name so that the writer knows where the comments came from and so he knows that you are one of the few that actually bothered to mark up the paper at all.

If you are the primary critic for another person’s work, you will not need to put any more comments on his sheet than you normally would. However, just arrange your thoughts the night before. Then in class, state your main points one by one and have the class discuss them. If no discussion ensues after you have gone through all of your points, call on each person and ask for his or her input on the piece in general.

Finally, don’t worry. Don’t take things too seriously. Most of your grade is based on your writing. The best strategy for writing well is simply to write. Just sit in front of your computer and eliminate all distractions. Then just write until you are finished. After that take a break then come back to revise.

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