Journal Assignments for EN 312 Creative Writing

Include the following assignments in your creative writing journal, along with your own observations or the Notebook Options you choose to try from the textbook. Ideally, you should write in your notebook for at least 15 minutes every day. I know that's not always possible, so I will ask you to write at least four times a week. You should try to write more often than that. When your writing journals are due (see your syllabus), you should have done all the exercises below that were assigned before the due date, plus about an equal number of other exercises from your textbook.

Some assignments may have more than one option. Most can be done at any time before the next writing journal due date. I will ask you to do some assignments before the next class period so that we can build on your journal writing in an in-class exercise. Those due dates will be noted in the description. Each assignment will be listed by the date it was assigned in class. If you miss class check this page to see if there is an assignment due the next class period. This page will be updated whenever there is a new assignment.


I want you to think of a place where you spent some time this summer. It doesn't have to be a vacation destination, though it could be; it could also be someplace at home or at work or outdoors. Now at that place, think of a smaller space, about the size of the classroom or smaller: some space that you can begin to describe in a paragraph or two. You need to be familiar enough with it or remember it well enough to write down an initial description, which can be in the form of a list or a paragraph.


Do #1 on pg. 11 of The Creative Process. You don't have to use one of the actions the authors suggest. Choose your own as long as it is a 'small' action like the ones they describe. Try to do this for at least two very different actions.

If you haven't been able to buy your textbook yet, that Notebook Option is: "Try to observe one of the following everyday actions and describe it in as much sensory detail as you can, preferably as it is going on: a person peeling, unwrapping, mixing, microwaving, or otherwise preparing some food, then eating it; a person pumping gas, from drive-in to drive-off; a person dressing for an athletic practice or event, or a date; ten to fifteen nonsleeping minutes in the life of a dog or cat."


Do the exercise on synonyms on pg. 16 of your textbook. You can use one of their suggestions for finding a paragraph or use a paragraph from one of your writing assignments. Replace words in the passage with synonyms (or closely related words) and rewrite the passage a couple of different ways.

Go to a public place and write down everything you: see, hear, smell, taste, touch. Make a list for each of the five senses. Include as many words as you can associated with the sensory perceptions in that place. Do not write in complete sentences; use single words or phrases. And do not write down where you are. Bring to class on Wednesday, Sept. 1.


Start a list of idioms people say that you either a) have never heard before or b) hear all the time that you noticed something new about or that have potential for your writing. In one column, list the word or phrase. In the next column describe who said it. And in the last column, explain what is interesting about this idiom or what you would normally say instead. Try to have at least 10 entries before your first journal due date (next week).


Find a small object, preferably something natural like a leaf, a piece of driftwood, or a pine cone--or if it is man-made, then something simple, non-mechanical. In about half a page, describe the object in detail, using only sensory words, no symbolism, metaphor, or other figurative language. On the next half of a page or so, describe it again, but this time permit yourself some figurative language. Make comparisons, refer to myth or to literature, or describe the emotional side of the object. Bring to class on Friday, September 3.


Pick a day and pick one of your senses--except for sight--focus on that sense and try to record as many different perceptions as possible for each of those perceptions, note the time, place, and any memories or associations.

Do the exercise on page 40 of your textbook on Family Stories. Write down in your own words an account of a story your family tells. Once you've done this, try to contact another person involved in the story and record their version of the story. You can write down a story about a friend instead of a family member, if you'd rather. Do try to get another version of the story. Bring to class on Friday, September 5, if possible. If you don't have the second version yet, bring your version of the story.


Do the composite character exercise in your textbook, pg.37. Feel free to use any people from your past (rather than childhood or teenage friends). It could be an older relative and someone from your hometown. You might even choose to write using characteristics of someone from one of the family stories your group discussed in class. Or use someone from your past and someone you know now. List both people's characteristics, then write a description that combines elements from each list.


Record one of your dreams. Try to remember as many actual details as possible. You might remember best if you write it down as soon as you wake up. Since it might take a little while to do this, keep a notepad or your journal by your bedside for a few nights. The dream doesn't have to be unique or even interesting. Obviously, if it is embarrassing, you may want to wait and record another dream you don't mind if I see.


Do the exercise in Capturing Unreality on pg. 46 or the exercise on making an Imaginary City on pg. 47 of your textbook. Instead of writing the latter in your journal, you can also take part in the forum topic for the Imaginary City exercise. Just make a note in your journal to remind me that you wrote yours online.


Choose an exercise from your journal that involved a description of a place. It can be a real place or a surreal place, it's up to you. List all the positive aspects of that place, then make a separate list of all the negative aspects. Which elements could be included in both lists? Write a scene incorporating elements of both lists. Try to draw on some of the elements you thought could be both positive and negative and bring out their dual quality (negative capability)

Take the composite character sketch you wrote or another character you are working on: make a list of at least 5 concrete things or actions you could describe in a scene, make a list of at least 5 abstract concepts you wrote about your character, and finally, try to find at least two pairs (concrete and abstract) that could go together (do not pick obvious ones, like love and rose--pick oblique pairs like anger and a housefly, or wealth and skin tone). Work these elements into a descriptive passage.

Go back to the public place (where you wrote down the five senses) and describe it from someone else's perspective. If you were in a restaurant, pick another customer's, waitron's, chef's or host's perspective. What physical things or parts of the space does this person have access to that you don't? Imagine what they are like. What about that person's mood might affect how they perceive it?

Return to your composite character sketch or another character description that you have written in the third person. Rewrite it in the character's own voice in the first person. OR return to the dream you recorded and rewrite that passage in the third person. How does the tone of the passage change depending on the narrator?


Take a poem or story you have written and copy out the 3-5 best lines or sentences. Feel free to copy them out in a different order than they are in the original poem or story. Look for similarities or contrasts between images or words in these strong lines. In a brief paragraph write down what you would think the theme of the piece is if you only had these five lines to go on.

In a paragraph or two, describe the pattern you see in the draft of one of your poems or stories. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this pattern? Suggest an alternate pattern and describe how making this change might affect the meaning of the piece.


Try two of the exercises for starting a poem found in our chapter. Choose from: Found Poem (pg. 123), List Poem (pp. 128-129), Question-and-Answer Poem (pg. 130), Letter Poem (pg. 133), Interior Poem (pp. 137-138), Line Breaks (pp.140-141), or Modern Myth (pg. 142). Write a free verse poem, concentrating on imagery, line lengths, voice, concentrated language, and a general sense of rhythm, rather than on meter or rhyme. Feel free to alter the exercises somewhat. For instance, if you do the Found Poem, you might write an Altered Found Poem by substituting synonyms or antynyms for the words in the text you found to create a (potentially surreal) poem that runs counter to the original text. For the Question and Answer Poem, you might try different combinations or groupings of questions and answers. Or you might combine the List Poem and the Letter Poem exercises, etc. By the way, the key word here is try. These never have to make it out of your journal, but do give them serious effort.