From the moment I learned the alphabet, I knew I wanted to be a writer. And I have never stopped wanting to be a writer since then.
When I was looking for colleges to apply to in high school, I knew that I had to find schools with writing majors, which ended up being a much harder task than I had expected. Every college offers the English major, but way fewer schools offer a major completely dedicated to the craft of writing itself. Lucky for me, I found out about the Writing Seminars major at Hopkins, which became a major reason why I decided to apply to Hopkins Early Decision.
The Writing Seminars major at Hopkins is extremely unique. Being a major that is deliberately focused on creative writing, it really pushes students to produce individual work. That is why many of the required courses for the major are workshop classes. Workshop classes are typically small and capped at about 20 students or less, and have students read and edit each other’s work.
This past semester, I took my first Writing Seminars workshop class called Fiction/Poetry Writing I, or IFP for short. It was my favorite class from this semester. It is a writing intensive class so we had to produce writing pieces every week.
I loved every single assignment from IFP and I want to share with you all what these assignments were.
By the way, even if you are not a Writing Sems major, you can still take IFP (and IFP 2, which follows IFP).
Poetry Assignment 1
Write a first-person poem in which the speaker is not identical with the author. You might want to base the poem on a childhood experience of your own, or of a fictional character.
Use at least some figurative language (similes, metaphors, symbols).
Include at least one of the following sensory details/descriptions:
a color or pattern
Include at least one of the following words (they can be singular or plural):
Write the poem in blank verse, as Robert Frost does in “Home Burial.”
Hint: Try to avoid the use of abstract concepts, such as peace, love, joy, etc. These are important ideas, but they mean different things to different people, and therefore require lots of contextualization. If you are writing about an experience of joy, try to evoke this emotion through sensory details and figurative language, rather than relying on the reader’s understanding of the word “joy.”
Poetry Assignment 2
A couple options:
1. Write two 8-line poems, in the first person, from the perspective of the same character in the same situation or conflict or difficulty. (Make sure you do give the character something specific to be grappling with—anything from taking out the trash to playing a guitar to going on a journey.) In one poem, give a sympathetic treatment; in the other, suggest a more critical or doubtful reading. Think of “Theme for English B.”
2. Write a poem in which you (the speaker?) revisit a place—a school, place of worship, playground—that meant something to you once but feels different now. Think of “Church Going.”
Poetry Assignment 3
Write a poem about an intensely emotional experience using figurative language that sometimes exalts its subject and sometimes brings it down to earth. Think of “Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats.
Write a poem employing a symbol or extended metaphor. As you write your poem, use one or two concrete items that help you to convey the emotional and thematic content of the scene. Think of “There are Birds Here” by Jamaal May, or “Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee.
Choose a line from a poem, song, or other work of literature that resonates deeply with you. Parse your associations with the words and ideas of this line, then pull these ideas together into a poem. Be sure to use concrete detail, images and figurative language. Also be sure to cite the line that inspired your poem (you might even consider using it as an epigraph, a line or quotation at the beginning of a poem connected to the poem’s theme).
Be sure to indicate which option you’ve chosen!
Poetry Assignment 4
Ballads are also narrative poems, telling the story of a momentous event or journey.
Write a poem of no more than 24 lines in the first or third person that narrates a single, life changing event.
You are not required to write in rhyme and meter, but are welcome to if you choose. An example of the correct metrical opening might be “As I walked into Gilman Hall” (iambic tetrameter). The second line might read, “a student called to me” (iambic trimeter).
A couple options (please indicate which you have chosen on your assignment):
1. Most sonnets are love poems. Write one. You are welcome to write about a non-traditional object of affection: travel, interior decorating, amusement parks, auto-repair…. Writing about a person is okay, too. Be sure to engage with the vocabulary of the subject you choose (for example, the vocabulary of auto-repair is probably different from the vocabulary of floral arrangement). Be sure to choose a subject about which you feel qualified to write with nuance and depth.
2. Write a sonnet that address God (or some kind of higher power), as Donne does in “Holy Sonnet 14.”
Whichever option you choose, be sure to write in iambic pentameter and employ one of the standard sonnet rhyme schemes and structures.
Fiction Assignment 1
Choose an item from the list below—one that sparks your memory. Spend ten minutes writing down all the sensory details it evokes. Employ all your senses: what does it look, smell, sound, feel, taste like? Do the same with at least one other item on the list. Turn one of these in.
Next, write a 2-2.5 page scene (do not attempt to write a full story) in which you imagine a stranger experiencing this place for the first time. Bring the physical world of the scene alive through vivid detail.
Porch or patio
Hairdresser or barber
Neighbor’s living room
Fiction Assignment 2
Develop a character whose public persona is very different from their private self. Write a scene (again, no need to write a full story with beginning, middle and end) in which this contrast is evident. For example, your character might think one thing, but say another. Readers should be able to tell, basically, what your character’s motivation is.
- If you used the first person in your previous assignment, use the third person for this one and vice-versa.
- Include at least one other character, and at least three lines of dialogue. Remember that this dialogue should contribute to the reader’s understanding of your character.
- Remember to include concrete details.
Fiction Assignment 3
Using “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and ” Gusev” as models, write a scene in which two or more characters are stuck somewhere, facing something unpleasant.
As you write, think about how the nature of what the characters are facing affects the details & descriptions you include, their interactions with one another, and the way they move within their surroundings. (“Sonny’s Blues” provides some good examples of this.)
Remember: one or two small, precise details can do more to help a reader “see” the place, person or thing you are describing than an over-worked list of attributes.
Fiction Assignment 4
Expand any of your earlier assignments into a full, 7-8 page story complete with beginning, middle, and end, incorporating the lessons we’ve learned over the course of the fiction unit. If you feel unconfident about your earlier assignments, you may start from scratch; however, I encourage you at least to try working with material you’ve already created.
Your portfolio will consist of these revisions:
1. A short story of at least seven pages in length.
2. Two poems – at least one of which must be in meter.
3. If you choose: a revision of one other assignment, poetry or fiction. This is not an extra credit option—it’s just an option.
Please also include a copy of the un-revised version of each of these revisions. It’s okay if it’s a marked-up copy. Your portfolio will not be considered complete without these earlier versions. I want to see that you have thoughtfully considered how to improve your poems and stories.
Optional: Write a one page (double spaced) portfolio introduction, drawing my attention to any editorial choices you’ve made or chosen not to make in putting together your final portfolio.
Your portfolio is graded on completeness (50%), and improvement (50%).