A Letter to the Writers in my Summer Composition Course

Hello Everyone!

One of the biggest problems for students in my online classes is that they fail to READ CAREFULLY. The world bombards us with texts, and we are getting used to always skimming. I’m guilty too!  Take the time to read this letter, the syllabus, and watch the tutorial videos on the course website. None of the videos is over 10 minutes long.  That’s a much shorter lecture than many of you are used to.  :)

I’m writing you because you are currently enrolled in the Summer I writing course I am teaching. In order to take this class, you will need a willingness to try new things, have regular access to the internet, and the desire to keep up with your work and stay in communication with me. This course will be over before you know it! Time flies in summer writing.

As you’ll soon see, I believe college is a place to try new things, to stretch yourself intellectually, and to get out of your comfort zone. Why just jump through the same old academic hoops you’ve been jumping through for years? You’ll do most of your work on a WordPress blog this semester, and I have some experiments planned when it comes to Facebook and Twitter. I realize some of you might have good reasons you object to social media, and if that’s you, just be in touch with me as the course moves along.

William Torgerson Writing Teaching College Composition

The Course Webpage / Click on Pic to Check it Out

You should know that just about everyone in the class thinks they aren’t a very good writer and is embarrassed to have others read their work. If that’s not you, please be sensitive to your classmates’ fears!  Once you start reading each other’s work, you’ll see we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  I really admire those of you who are writing in English as a second language. That is so much work, and I admire your intellectual ambition! Writing is something that happens in process.  We can write a bad first draft just to have something to work with and then we can go about making it better. You’ll be graded on keeping up with the work and the work you do to make the draft better as the class goes along.  You will not be graded on the quality of your first drafts.

I’m attaching the syllabus.  You can print it out and read over it, but it is also available online. I’ll give you the course website at the end of this email. The syllabus is going to look very long.  Don’t be afraid!  I think it is long because I explain what you need to do in great detail.  I hope you’ll find everything explained clearly.

This is important: Once you are on the course website, you will occasionally need a password.

(Password Information section removed)

I used to be a basketball coach, but I was converted to writer by some life experiences I had in the way of meeting people and reading texts that changed my life. Watch out. The reading and writing you do may change your life. Be on the lookout for that.

The course begins on Tuesday, May 29. I’ll respond to any email questions you have before then, but I’ll respond to your work the day or two after it is due. Like you, I’m pretty tired out from the year and getting this course ready for you all.

If any of you are in places where YouTube is blocked, you won’t be able to access some of the tutorial videos. If that’s the case, you and I can write back and forth if you have trouble setting up your work.

The course website is below.  I look forward to meeting you through the work of this course!



College Composition Students Discuss Their Internet Reading and Writing

Surprise, these students all read books.

Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I know after some days of checking email, reading websites, responding to student blogs, and dropping in on the various social media sites I participate in, I feel way more anxious and scatterbrained than usual. It’s a feeling Nicholas Carr notes too in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Several of the writers I’m working with this semester at St. John’s University joined me to discuss their upcoming literacy autobiographies within the context of Carr’s book.  Here’s some highlights of our conversation and a link to where I’ve published our discussion.

Nicholas Carr The Shallows William Torgerson St. John's University Love on the Big Screen

My fellow podcasters: Sean, Elizabeth, and Jessi

Shawn is a business management major who is also a baseball player. Although during the podcast, Shawn seems to take the side of reading around on the internet over reading books, he ends the program by recommending us to the writer and chef Anthony Bourdain who has written Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw.

Elizabeth takes science courses even though she doesn’t much like science and she spends hours reading around on Wikipedia.  She also suggested a book to read at the end of the show: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Jessi seems happy to be a pharmacy major and wants to someday own a lime green Volkswagen Beetle. She speaks highly of Tumblr and recommends the magna Bleach.

Here are a few of the lines we discuss from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows:

“Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski” (7).

 “As soon as you learn to be a ‘skilled hunter’ online, he [O’Shea] argues, books become superfluous” (9).

Nicholas Carr The Shallows William Torgerson St. John's University Love on the Big Screen

“Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts–the faster, the better” (10).

You can download the complete audio podcast here or search for us via “Digital Book Club” on iTunes.

Write With Me Wednesdays: Create Your Writing Territories


(Click Here If You Prefer the Podcast)

Writing lesson teaching ideas research

Directions:  Respond to the following prompts to create your writing territories.  Perhaps you want to copy and paste these prompts into your blog and post your responses.  If you use this activity for your writing, I invite you to leave your blog address via a comment to this post.

  1. Make a list of topics you know a lot about, or if that puts too much pressure on you, make a list of things you know something about.
  2. List the main parts and/or roles in your life.  For example, I’m a professor, a novelist, a husband, a father, a runner, and much more.
  3. Make a list of places you know well.
  4. What are you working on right now?  What projects/work do you have going that might make for good writing topics?
  5. Make a list of topics that you wish you knew more about, or list some things you’d like to be trained in.  You could go out and learn (maybe interview others) and bring the news of your learning back to your audience.
  6. Do a sample schedule of your life.  Try out a weekday, a weekend, summertime, or a holiday.  At 8:00 a.m. you….  And then you…  The idea is that there are topics buried everywhere in each minute of your life.  You just need to be on the lookout for them.
  7. List some political/social issues relevant to your life.

So You Created the Territories, Now What?

  1. Look over the words and phrases you’ve listed and use them to come up with projects for writing.  You might see something that reminds you of a story or you might find a word or phrase that triggers an idea for what you can tell your readers about.  If it’s something you want to know (Why do I keep ending up in these relationships or how do I enter a film in a festival?) then you can take your readers on a journey with you.
  2. Do you want to post your writing territories?  You could explain that you are going to write along with us and that you are posting your writing territories as a blog post.  You could also probably post them as a comment to this post.
  3. After completing the territories, I’d love it if you would post a reflection as comment here about how the activity went for you.
  4. You might want to just jump right to the writing. I suggest that you tell us a story or tell us about one of the words or phrases that you have listed while responding to the prompts.
  5. If you’ve already got a project underway, (as I do) then post an excerpt from that work on your blog and show how it comes out of your territories.  I plan to post something that comes from my writing territories next Monday, November 21, 2011.
Access the handout here.