Field Trip Workshop


Writer Leader/Editor Lead Critic/Copy Editor #1 Lead Critic/Copy Editor #2
Tori A. Johan H. Victoria C. Nick S.
Katie B. Christiane L. Nicole F. Stephen S.
Carolynn B. Christina M. Shannon F. Siobhan T.
Victoria C. Zack P. Lexi H. Ty V.
Nicole F. Nick S. Johan H. Tori A.
Shannon F. Stephen S. Christiane L. Katie B.
Lexi H. Siobhan T. Christina M. Carolynn B.
Johan H. Ty V. Zack P. Victoria C.
Christiane L. Tori A. Nick S. Nicole F.
Christina M. Katie B. Stephen S. Shannon F.
Zack P. Carolynn B. Siobhan T. Lexi H.
Nick S. Victoria C. Ty V. Johan H.
Stephen S. Nicole F. Tori A. Christiane L.
Siobhan T. Shannon F. Katie B. Christina M.
Ty V. Lexi H. Carolynn B. Zack P.


Read: The “Rules” of a Creative Writing Workshop and Tasks of the Workshop Discussion Leader, Lead Critic


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The Mind Mapping Exercise

At points in the writing process, it’s helpful to use clustering, sometimes called “idea mapping” or “mind mapping.” It means what it sounds: you draw a map of possible subtopics and ideas that have to do with your general starting topic or assignment, on a single paper. It’s a graphic representation of your mind, or at least the parts of your mind used for your current project.

Formally defined, a mind map is “a diagram used to represent concepts, ideas or tasks linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea” (Burgess-Allen 406). Visual and non-linear, mind maps often helps make connections and analyze ideas for some thinkers, both qualitative and quantitative ideas well as the more conceptual and data-driven. It’s been proven to aid in retention (i.e., studying, learning) as well as developing ideas (i.e., brainstorming, revising).

What makes mind mapping different than, say, making an outline or a list? In a mind map, “any idea can be connected to any other,” writes Martin Davies in Higher Education. “Free-form, spontaneous thinking is required when creating a mind map, and the aim of mind mapping is to find creative associations between ideas. Thus, mind maps are principally association maps.”

Your in-class assignment is to make a mind map.

What appears above is a very rough clustering map I dug up from when I was writing about the song “Your Love” by The Outfield. It may not look like much, but it did help me figure out where to start and which topics I could talk about.  The finished essay appears online here.

English: This mindmap (Mind map) consists of r...

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Vocal Warm-Ups: The All-Anchorman Edition

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The Short, Heavily Edited, It’s Also About Me-Style Interview Assignment

This is a short interview you can have with pretty much any subject. Of course, as with all interviews, it helps if your subject is interesting or eccentric, or at least forthcoming and eloquent. The beauty of the short interview is that it doesn’t matter as much as in straight/hard journalism. You see these interviews all over the web, either in blogs or online magazines, as well as traditional print magazines. These interviews are short reads, often but not always light in their subject matter. It’s also a skill to put them together.


There are several scenarios for this kind of interview:

  • What if you want your personality to come through in an interview?
  • What if your subject isn’t famous or isn’t terribly interesting?
  • What is your subject isn’t forthcoming or needs to be prodded into producing an answer?
  • What if it is noteworthy or interesting who interviewer is?
  • What if you have something to say to everyone as well as your interviewee?
  • What is the necessity of moving things along and readability trumps nuance and prolonged, wonky explanation?

The It’s Also About Me Interview is fun, short, sometimes confrontational, sometimes informative.


  • We can as a class agree on a theme or common element among our subjects, should we decide to publish them as a group.
  • Research: find out things about the person, the person’s home, family, neighborhood, whatever is relevant. Come with notes.
  • These are in-person interviews that you will tape and transcribe.
  • Establish your point of view in the interview.
  • Interview someone you do not know; in other words, a Complete Stranger.  Please see this post for Clarifying Points on this Complete Stranger Rule, as well as the reasons why, specific and not specific to this class.

We are going to pitch interview subjects in class, then do our interviews and

Kinds of ‘It’s Also About Me’ Interviews

I divide Heavily Edited, It’s Also About Me Interviews into two categories, and will provide an exemplar for each.  There are more categories of this type of Q and A interview, but this is what we will do first.

Confrontational. In this variation, the interview often interrupts her subjects and asks hard, probing questions, and these exchanges are included in the final product. Another tack is to make a bit of theater out of your interview.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine‘s Questions For interview is a good example of the confrontational interview. Different people conduct these interviews, but for quite a long time it was Deborah Solomon [archive link here]. This column has made headlines a couple years ago, and is an interesting case study. Solomon, whose interviews were well-known for their brassy, sometimes combative pace and tone, came under scrutiny regarding how the articles are edited and put together. Specific examples: Darryl Strawberry, Patti Smith, and Cynthia Nixon.

There are issues, journalistic and ethical, that surround this kind of interview. Matt Elzweig of the New York Press wrote an expose,  “Questions for the Questioner,” which was followed by the Times’ Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, who addressed what some see as fast-and-loose interviewing ethics on Solomon’s part. The Huffington Post also covered the issue.

One result of all this hoopla and hand-wringing was that Solomon’s interviews, and all subsequent “Questions For” interviews, now have the tagline at the end that reads, “Interview has been condensed and edited.”

This has always been the case: this sort of interview, where questions are re-sequenced and answers chopped down for length and readability, is a staple in magazines and newspapers.

Eccentric. I am a huge fan of the long-running, now-defunct Toni Schlesinger‘s “Shelter” column, which ran in the Village Voice for almost 10 years. A partial archive of these Shelter interviews appears here. She’s also collected some of these terrific interviews in a book called Six Flights Up.

The interviews work because New Yorkers are obsessed with real estate and apartments, and the angle of Schlesinger’s feature was to ask people about their apartments, the story of their apartments, and basically just to talk to them (sometimes at them). A link to an interview with Schlesinger appears here. Direct links to some of my favorite Shelter interviews are here, here, here, here, and here.

Specific to Our Own Assignment and Final Draft

  • We’re leaning toward the eccentric kind for this assignment.
  • No headnote; that is, these interviews will have no introduction. We will have an evocative title, and a subheader/dek in a full sentence. For example: “Jane Smith, CEO of Smithoverse, Inc., say we’re doing blacksmithery wrong.”)
  • Final Draft 750 words, give or take 10 words; Rough Drafts 900-1100 words, no more and no less.
  • Use questions to include the basic expository information–what bar or restaurant are we in? what time of day is it? what kind of person are we talking to? Your subject may give you this information at some point, but you revise your questions to include that information.
  • Explain your subject’s past, his/her appearance, voice, mannerisms if applicable.
  • Ask about the Cabaret Laws in Albany, whether your subject thinks they are a good idea or not, general thoughts.
  • Place us in the interview: tell us where you are both doing this interview, what expectations you had of this person before meeting, and whether those expectations were true or up-ended.

About the Heavily Edited Part

You will be heavily editing this interview. Questions and answers will be rearranged. Answers will be compressed and combined. Questions will have information added onto, such as expository information, even reactions.

Your Rough Draft should reflect none of this; your Final Draft, however, will. We’re not just cleaning up a transcript here; we’re making it more readable and faster-paced than any real, human conversation. We’ll learn by doing for this stage, but safe to say that the final product is more of a reenactment of a conversation than a record of one. And it’s perhaps for this reason that, for the most part, you should keep the conversation lighter than a hard-hitting news interview. You’re trying to have a human conversation with someone, not exposing anything scandalous. There’s a time and place for that, and this is not one of them.

For more on editing and rearranging interviews listen to this segment from NPR’s On The Media, “Pulling Back the Curtain,” where John Solomon examines editing interviews for the radio.

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The One-Hour Sit-Down Field Trip Assignment

Compilation image of Albany, New York, United ...

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“Every work of literature has a situation and a story,” Vivian Gornick writes. “The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.”

This assignment–part immersion writing, part hard journalism, part personal essay–works from a premise: put yourself in a situation, and find your story.

Part One

Sit down in a public place within Albany city limits for one hour. This place must be other than The College of Saint Rose campus.

Examples: Restaurant, drinking establishment, bus stop, café, pizza place, food court, mall, hardware store, bookstore. Take note of the name of the place and its street address (more about that later).

Bring a notebook. Take notes if you want, but do not fill out the form until after your one-hour sit-down.

Do not answer your cellphone, PDA, or use your computer during this period. No text messaging, Twitter updating, or any other digital method of communicating or updating during this time period.

Do not initiate any human or animal interaction. If someone comes up to you and starts a conversation, that’s fine, but end your talk politely by saying you are studying.

Take pictures or video, or record your voice narrating something, before or afterwards. Use your phone’s camera, or a real camera. Either is fine.

Part Two

Right after you are finished your one-hour sit-down, go somewhere else and complete the first of this assignment. Fill out the top four items as you would filling out a form, then write down your notes.

Name of Place Visited:
Street Address:
Date, Time of Day:
Notes (in no particular order):

Physical surroundings. Where are you? Is there an official name for this place, or would you have a nickname for this place? What or who is next door? What neighborhood is it—is it a rough neighborhood, a fancy one? Does it have a significance to you, or is it a random spot? Are you comfortable? Did you become more comfortable during this hour? Does your surroundings remind you of anything in your past? Why or why not?

People-watch. Are you alone, or are there other people near you? Are they customers, pedestrians, passers-by? Can you overhear people talk? What are they saying? What is the tone of the conversation? Are people coming up and talking to you? Are they looking at you? Describe people in detail: Age, gender, clothes, ethnicity, social class, their gestures, tones of voice. Do any of the people you are observing remind you of yourself or other people? Why or why not?

Use your senses. Take an inventory using your senses of sight, touch, smell, and sound. What colors do you see around you? Are your surroundings bright—is it day or night? Is it cold? Are you warm? Pick up an object that’s near you—a rock, a menu, a tree branch—and describe it in detail. What does it feel like? Use your sense of smell—can you smell food, gasoline, people, animals, flowers? Finally, listen to the sounds—not just what people are saying, but the sounds. Can you hear machines, birds, buses, music? Does using any of these senses remind you of some memory in your own life, a movie, or some event?

Part Three

These are your notes for the next stage of your assignment, which you will use your notes and your experience to write a piece of nonfiction that integrates into your One-Hour Sit-Down Field Trip. Your piece does not need to be about your Field Trip in a primary way; rather, it serves as the setting for whatever it is you want to write about, perhaps even a foil for what is going on in your head.

Editorial Requirements

Word count: The final product will be no fewer than 900 words and no more than 1100. Your rough draft, then, should be no fewer than 900 and no longer than 2000 words.

Other editorial requirements:

Title/Headline: You must give a title this piece.
Subhead/Dek: You must write a subheading in the body of your piece, preferably a full sentence.

We will post completed, edited assignments online, after we go through them in class.

Other Thoughts

One question I will be asking you of all of the pieces, and I expect you to address this in writing for each as well, is to try to answer one or all of these questions: What is the real story here?

Put another way: Which detail or observation seems to rise to the top and can act as a dominant theme, or through-line?

How would you describe the writer’s persona presented here? For example, is it
sarcastic, solemn, silly, urbane, witty, curious?

What is the most interesting or compelling aspect of the writerly persona?

Are there any ways to present this persona in a more cohesive way in revision?

Conversely, are there any ways to downplay or cut out passages that get in the
way of the story, the dominant theme, or the writerly persona?

Does the writer observations made in the piece? Do they share answers with the reader?

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