Assigning, Responding, Evaluating

Ch. 1: Topics for exploration

Dear Student,

What is writing? Well, what isn’t writing? Consider this: it is possible that every thought you’ve ever had is a form of “writing.” Or maybe that’s not it at all.

Confused yet? That’s because writing is hard, but sometimes fun. Really, sometimes writing sucks. Or does it? Here are some other details: it is time-consuming, it gets gritty, ideas are elusive. Writing makes you learn truths about yourself that you wish you were still able to deny.

And coming up with topics to write about? Well, basically you can write about anything. Everything. It’s overwhelming! Nevertheless, you must pick a specific subject about which to write. You will write about this subject. Or maybe you will combine a bunch of topics together and write a big, sloppy mess of words. Or maybe you’ll go all postmodern and write about a subject you will never actually write about.

Still confused? You’re probably stuck. If you’re ever stuck, that’s normal. You might begin with a basic (a very, very basic) question: what are your interests? Also, too, consider your influences: What political writers do you admire? How do you compare when writing the “prosaic narrative”? Have you ever considered writing a blog?

Okay, you’re still stuck. Examine the topics below for inspiration:

1. Write an essay where you explore your inability to keep other people’s secrets. Describe the moments where you have blurted information indiscreetly. Describe the inner wrestlings of your psychology when someone tells you something in confidence. Length: 2 pages, otherwise you’re likely to reveal a secret you are supposed to be keeping.

2. Write an essay where you discuss the extent to which Jessica Simpson’s weight has anything to do with how much money you have in your bank account.

3. Write a self-indulged essay about any of the following: your pets; how you are currently obsessed with zillow; the PhD application process; the possibility of moving from Los Angeles and how you really, really love Los Angeles; your endlessly talented and adorable husband; how you’d like to be remembered as someone’s favorite teacher.

4. Write fiction. Actually, rewrite one of the few pieces you’ve been working on for, like, two years. Submit to a blog. Ask Jeremy, an editor of this blog, if you can submit fiction.
“Fiction?” he will say.
“Yes,” you’ll answer.
“Fiction?” he will say.

5. Write an essay about how cute this picture is:

6. Whatever you do, do not write an essay on politics or philosophy. You may, however, attempt a prosaic narrative. Or some type of parody. Sarcasm usually works.

7. Come up with your own essay topic. Submit below.

13 responses to “Assigning, Responding, Evaluating”

  1. Tim says:

    It seems the commenters have writer’s block themselves. Hmmm . . . what to say, what to say?

    Let’s see. First off, I now know with whom I should never share a secret (unless I want everyone to know but don’t want to tell them myself). Also, don’t leave Los Angeles! Or don’t go far, if you have to. Next, I think it would be really interesting if you posted fiction. On first reading, people wouldn’t know what to make of it. That’s a cool feeling. Moreover, yes, very cute photo. Howsomever, I’m not sure that sarcasm has much of a success rate anymore. The Bush years are over; honesty and ingenuousness are in!

  2. (Oh and also: in case you read Spanish — here is a very good post about searching for inspiration. JM Coetzee’s solution is brilliant — just assume you have crossed that bridge, gotten the inspiration, begun the piece, and proceed as if that had already happened.)

  3. Jeremy says:

    Here’s a not-so-secret secret, and an answer to your email: yes, I do.

    (Also, this really did make me wonder what kind of writing assignments you give to your students… interesting ones, no doubt.)

    Furthermore, fiction?

  4. Ivy says:

    I think the puppy is trying to taste the rabbit without anyone noticing. It has the trying-to-get-away-with-something look in its eye.

  5. LT says:

    I really like that SEK page…Thanks TMK!

  6. Natasha says:

    LT, it sounds like you make a great teacher. Writing starts without radiance and eventually evolves, if inspired. English teachers have a crucial job of inspiring the ugly where they see the potential and watching it grow into a masterpiece. Teaching a student is like raising a child: from the exciting moments of the first encounter, full of hope and enthusiasm, to the chronic somnolent fatigue, frustration, the need for a source of some divine patience, and the perpetual duty to search out the positive sides of your child’s character, the special talents, and gifts you can improve to create a valuable addition to the world. It’s a difficult job of a great consequence — not everyone can handle, not everyone should do, but by far, the most momentous and rewarding.

  7. Jane says:

    I have had some wonderful essay assignments in my life…but I have to say that if I was assigned the “secret” essay…it would jump to the top of the list of favorite topics.

    And I agree with Tim. Commenters get writer’s block very frequently.

  8. Swells says:

    Wow . . . those are some very postmodern links you have as a secret underbelly to this post! Very inspiring . . . gives writing a whole new miasma of possibilities . . .

  9. Miller says:

    i’ve emailed this post to a select few from a class I’m taking this semester–the theory and practice of composition instruction. yeah. this is a brilliant translation of how i feel at times while i’m digging through the theory of process, product, multiculturalism, writing across the curriculum, current traditional rhetoric, blah, blah and blah. i’m now convinced that i will ruin the minds and lives of every student who walks into my classroom. pedagogical violence, they call it.

    btw, i’m interviewing and observing swells, the teaching guru, for this class. give me the secret code, oh great one!

  10. LT says:

    miller: wear dark glasses when you observe swells. she will burn your eyes with her brilliance. refuse to compare yourself to her until you’re at least 5 years in.

  11. Swells says:

    spoken by someone who a) has never even seen me teach, and b) is a rhet/comp specialist, UNLIKE me. stop it, both of you. right now.

  12. LP says:

    Or she will rap your knuckles with a ruler! So THAT’s the kind of teacher Swells is.