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ENGL 285 A: Writers on Writing

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm
OUG 136
Maya Sonenberg
Maya Sonenberg

Syllabus Description:

Writers on Writing (ENGL 285)

Professor: Maya Sonenberg


Place/Time: ODG 136, TTh 12:30-2:20

Office Hours: TTh 2:30-3:30 pm & by appointment, Padelford B-431

Please contact me through Canvas. Other students usually have the same questions as you do and this makes it easy for me to share the answers with everyone.


Have you ever wondered how your favorite poem came into being or what in the world your favorite writer was thinking when they developed that fascinating essay about bugs or that heartrending exploration of coming to terms with a family trauma? Have you ever wondered how the intricate plots and subplots of your favorite novel were woven together? Have you ever wondered how your favorite writer constructed the most beautiful sentence you’ve ever read? This class may help dispel some of those mysteries.

 Through lectures and readings, this class will introduce you to the creative processes of working prose writers and poets. Then, through a tasting menu of assignments, you'll get to test out professional writers' activities: read; write poems, fiction, personal essays, book reviews, and other writing about literature; keep a writer's notebook; attend readings and/or lectures; and give and receive constructive feedback.  Online and in-class group discussions will allow you to share your writing with classmates.

Learning Goals

  • Learn what inspires and excites a wide variety of creative writers
  • Read a wide variety of contemporary poems, short stories, and personal essays
  • Listen to speakers and learn from them
  • Practice different kinds of writing
  • Create your own poems, stories and creative essays
  • Practice giving and receiving constructive feedback
  • Practice revising your writing


Students will:

  • attend all lectures and readings
  • read poems, stories, and essays in preparation for each class
  • participate in graded online discussions about the readings and talks
  • complete rough drafts and final versions of four short writing assignments
  • participate in class discussions and activities, and comment on classmates' creative writing


  • an active UW email address. Course assignments will be posted on Canvas (including all readings), and you will submit your written work on Canvas as well
  • a writer's notebook--this might be a physical notebook or a dedicated online space (optional but highly recommended)


As you’ll see, there are many assignments in this class (lots of reading and lots of writing)—and many different kinds of assignments. I believe students benefit from practicing reading and writing on an on-going basis and from discovering which kinds of writing they excel at. No one assignment is huge, however. Since the stakes for any one assignment (in terms of the final grade) are quite low, I hope students will take risks and try new things.


  • due in preparation for every class meeting
  • all available through Canvas

Graded Discussions on the Talks and Reading

  • one each week for a total of 10
  • due every Tuesday
  • each time, you will be asked to respond to the week’s talk(s) and reading, to invent a creative response to the talk(s) or reading, and to respond to one of your classmate’s posts
  • see Talks/Reading Discussions for details

Writing Assignments

  • four short assignments
  • each time, you will be able to choose from 5 different prompts: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, academic writing (either a book review or a paper). These prompts will appear as 5 different assignments on Canvas. You only need to do ONE of these each time and will be excused from the others.
  • Over the quarter, you may choose any combination of genres. You might write four poems; or four pieces of fiction; or two of each; or one poem, one bit of fiction, and two bits of literary nonfiction; etc. If you do one of each  (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and either a paper or a book review) by the end of the quarter, you will get 10 points of extra credit.
  • various due dates but you will always have 2 days between turning in the rough draft and workshop, and 5 days between workshop and when the final version is due
  • your peers will provide feedback on the rough drafts; Rachel Hill and I will comment on and grade the final versions
  • grading rubrics will be provided for all of these assignments
  • see various Writing assignments for details

 Written and Oral Comments on Classmates’ Writing

  • For each writing assignment, you will be placed in a small group and expected to provide written feedback to all group members. I will provide guidelines for this feedback. In addition, you will be expected to participate in our in-class workshop sessions for each writing assignment. As a good citizen of the workshop group, it is important to both give and receive feedback, in writing and in person. In-class discussions will be structured so that they do NOT simply replicate the written feedback.

Extra Credit

  • See the Extra Credit portion of Canvas for the opportunities


  • There are none!


  • Graded Discussions                                                                       150 pts
  • Writing, rough drafts                                                                       20 pts
  •  Writing, final versions                                                                  180 pts
  • Written & oral comments on classmates’ writing           50 pts                             
  • TOTAL                                                                                                      400 pts

Formatting for Writing Assignments

  • You will submit your creative writing exercises and paper on Canvas. These must be submitted as .doc or .docx files. Standard formatting requirements will be mandatory for all class assignments.
  • For each creative writing exercise, you will have a choice of prompts. In the upper left corner of the first page of your writing, you MUST include the title of the prompt you are responding to. It will be impossible for your peers to review your work or for us to grade it if you fail to do this.
  • All exercises and the paper must have a title. Titles should be left-justified, either in bold or all caps.
  • assignments must be in a standard font (Times New Roman, Garamond, Helvetica, or Arial), size 12, and left-justified.
  • Poems must be single-spaced. Prose assignments must be double-spaced. In prose, the first line of each paragraph should be indented.
  • Include page numbers.
  • Exercises and papers must be fully punctuated, with standard capitalization, unless the student makes a stylistic choice to do otherwise for a particular reason.
  • These requirements are not meant to stifle creativity, simply to make your work physically easy to read. If alternative formatting will help convey your intentions for your writing, you may deviate from these requirements but we will expect those choices to make sense for the particular piece of writing.




We will not provide written feedback on late assignments. Late work will be docked 1 point for every day it’s late. Of course, we all have true emergencies at times (serious illness, family crisis, etc.). If this applies to you, please email me BEFORE the assignment is due if at all possible. For extended absences and very late work, I may ask for a doctor’s note or something comparable.

Conferences & Office Hours:

I do not require conferences. However, I will always be happy to meet with you to discuss your writing or any other aspects of the class. Although you may simply drop by during office hours, it’s a good idea to secure a time slot by emailing me ahead of time. If you have class or work during my office hours, please email me and we will find another time to meet.    

Academic Integrity:

Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else’s ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people’s thoughts and writing—as long as you cite them. While I whole-heartedly agree that great writers “steal” from the work of others, they do NOT do this word for word, line for line.   If I find that you have been using another writer’s (including another student writer’s) words without attribution, we will need to have a serious chat and you run the risk of failing this class. I will also expect that ALL the writing you do for this class will be produced for this class. In other words, please don't "plagiarize" yourself by turning in writing you've done for other classes, either in the past or during this quarter.Please see Student Governance Policy, Chapter 209, Section 7.C for more details about plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.


I will expect you to be in class every day. Although part of each class will be devoted to a lecture, class time will also be spent on interactive and group activities. In addition, it will be impossible to complete the graded discussions without having heard the lecture (or without having done the reading), and it will be difficult to complete the creative writing exercises without having attended the class linked to each assignment.


This will be almost entirely a screen-free classroom. I will expect you to keep all computers, tablets, and cell phones in your bags during class, and have those phones turned off or silenced—not just turned to vibrate. Class is short—we’ll be able to return those calls and texts when it’s over! If you have established accommodations which makes taking notes and doing other writing on a computer necessary (or think you might need these), please see the next section.

Access and Accommodations:

  • Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.
  • If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

 UW Religious Accommodations Policy

And last but not at all least….

Department of English Statement of Values

  • The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use is powerful and holds the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world—skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”
  • As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities.  Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class.  These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue.  We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.
  • Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, genders, national origins, political views, and citizenship status; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.


Catalog Description: 
Experiencing literature from the inside. Members of the creative writing faculty and other practicing writers discuss their poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction, literary inspiration, artistic practice, and the writer's life.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
October 8, 2019 - 11:10pm