Session 1 (2/4/2015): Welcome!

Welcome everyone! I’m excited to embark on this semester-long journey with you. As I explained in class, this site will serve as your course “hub” for the semester. You can find assignments, readings, and session recaps here. You can also post questions and comments.

The general format for each post will be the same: I’ll recap what we did in class, explain any assignments that are due, and provide links to further readings that may be helpful to you.

So without further delay, here’s the Session 1, Spring 2015 post:


Since today was our very first session of the Niteo Writing Seminar, we started off with introductions. Marjorie and I (your instructors) shared a bit about our backgrounds related to writing, and we asked you to share a favorite piece of writing or favorite author. Based on your sharing, it seems safe to say that you are a class with wide-ranging interests and excellent taste! Included in the list of favorite authors/works were Philip K. Dick; Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, and The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant (later made into the movie Lawless). Thanks for the recommendations!

We briefly went over the syllabus, and I encouraged everyone to review it in its entirety before the next class. One part we spent some time on was the Kurt Vonnegut (1985) quote from his essay How to Write with Style:

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.  It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.  I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something.  A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”

We wanted to draw your attention to this quote because it gets to the heart of this course, which is helping one another find “our angles”  — to identify what it is we care about in each of the course readings so that we can better enjoy the writing process.  For more on this, see the course syllabus.

After reviewing the syllabus, you each shared how you were feeling about starting this course. Responses varied from “motivated” to “neutral” to “anxious.” We discussed that it’s normal to have mixed feelings about beginning this course – after all, it is academic in focus, and it’s going to require that you access a skill set you may not have used for some time or may not be entirely comfortable using. We ask that you keep in mind that this is a space to practice, to make mistakes, to learn, and to build your confidence. There’s also a good amount of fun and laughter – so keep coming, even if you have reservations.

We ended the class by watching a TED talk entitled “A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success.”  We watched this film because the organizing theme for the course content is “success” – what is it and how do we achieve it?  In his talk, Alain de Botton challenges us to think critically about our societal and personal ideas of success. He explains that “developed individualistic countries” foster a particularly stressful culture, where our expectations for ourselves and one another, in terms of personal achievement, are unfair and damaging to our self-esteem. De Botton says that concerning ourselves with being successful is still a worthwhile pursuit; however, he emphasizes the need to carve our own path. He states

“So what I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough, not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

After viewing the video, some of you shared your reactions. An emergent theme in your responses was “easier said than done” – it’s hard not to care what other people think. I encouraged you to continue to approach the course materials with an open mind and to continue to note your reactions. While the readings and videos we will be covering all have something to offer, there may be elements that are problematic. We encourage you to continue to voice your opinions.

Each of you went on to discuss your own ideas of success in writing. You filled out a survey that is intended to give us, your instructors, an understanding of your strengths and areas in which you want to grow in terms of writing. We’ll discuss the results of those surveys, in a general way, next class.

Finally, we gave you information on the material we’ll be covering in Session 2, which takes us to the…


Watch “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” TED Talk by psychologist Amy Cuddy (21 mins)

For next time (2/11/2015), come prepared to engage in a class discussion on the following:

  • What are the speaker’s key points?
  • What did you find interesting, surprising, or thought-provoking about this talk?
  • Did you find anything about this talk problematic or confusing?
  • What personal experiences can you relate to this talk?


We also spent some time in class explaining that we will be integrating mindfulness-based relaxation exercises into the course. Writing – for school, work, or fun – is a creative process, and relaxation is key to promoting creative thinking.  Practicing mindfulness can help you to approach assignments with increased focus and ultimately improve your productivity. For those who are interested in learning more about how relaxation is linked to creativity, check out the buffersocial blog post entitled “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity.”


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