Rules for Writing

To start off classes this semester, I had the students sit in groups of five. This meant 5 tables of 5 students each. I asked the students to list each member of their group on the board as well as a detail that might help us to get to know them. After they finished doing that, they listed five “Rules For Writing” that they believed in or had been taught to them in previous classes.


college writing, composition, rules for writing, teaching, pedagogy, writing studies, St. John's University, Bill Torgerson, English, NCTE, CCCC, ENGCHAT, FYCChat


Next, each group read a different text written by a writer about writing. On the first day, I used these texts/excerpts:

  • Black Boy by Richard Wright.
  • “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamott
  • Life by Keith Richards
  • Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
  • “Unlearn to Write” by Donald Murray

The students read the excerpt out loud and answered the following four questions:

  1. What is the writer’s message about writing?
  2. What are some “golden lines” that you think are worth talking about?
  3. How can you apply the ideas here to your own writing?
  4. Does any of what this writer says about writing cause you to rethink any of your own Rules For Writing?

When each group was finished, I counted off by fives at each table. Students moved to a new table and presented the text they had just read to students who had read something different. I want to thank St. John’s University doctoral student Katelynn DeLuca for reminding me about this “jigsaw” method of getting students to move around the room.

In the coming weeks, students will be reading and commenting on texts written by writers about writing. This exercise was a way for all of us to begin to get to know each other and for the students to get acquainted with some of the choices they have for their reading this semester.


Welcome to Torg Stories

Seven years ago I made the switch from high school English teacher and basketball coach to writer and professor.  Since that time, I’ve been blessed to have been hired to teach First Year Writing courses at St. John’s University in New York. I write novels, scripts, publish a podcast, and have just sent out my first documentary film for consideration at several film festivals.

Cherokee McGhee Press has published two of my novels. The first, Love on the Big Screen, tells the story of a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies. In writing that book, I drew upon my early dating experiences, my time riding the bench of a small-college basketball team, and my devotion to 80s films such as Say Anything and Sixteen Candles.   My adaptation of that novel won the Grand Prize of the Rhode Island International Screenplay Competition.


80s Movies music John Cusack John Hughes Say Anything Olivet Nazarene lovea scene from the novel by artist Keegan Laycock


Horseshoe is my most recent novel and is set in a fictionalized version of my hometown, Winamac, Indiana. It’s a place where everyone knows everybody else’s business.  Writer Bryan Fuhurness endorsed the novel by writing, “What Sherwood Anderson would have written if he had a sense of humor.”

William Torgerson 80s romantic comedy Winamac Indiana Say Anything Cusack High Fidelity faith God healing service


I ask my students to write a hybrid research paper we call a Scholarly Personal Narrative. I think of Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man and Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking as examples of this sort of text that combines a personal story with scholarly research.  The students also create short documentary films, follow Tweets in their area of interest, and compose ePortfolios as their final writing project.

In order to consider my professional life, I use a metaphor gifted to me by a former professor: Writing Floats on a Sea of Conversation. Given that, I invite you to respond to anything you find here as the first lines of what could be a rewarding conversation.  You can get in touch with me via Twitter @BillTorg or write me an email at

Would you vote and tell me about your Twitter use?

his post is for anyone who thinks they might want to try out Twitter, or perhaps, anyone who could use a set of instructions to pass along to students.

Social Media, Education, NCTE, Writing, Digital literacy

The handout to my instructions are here, or you can just read them below:

  1. Consider if you’d like for people to know who you are on Twitter.  I’m “BillTorg” and that’s pretty obviously me.  If I’m “EightiesDude,” then maybe it’s harder to figure out who I am.
  2. Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters.  The longer your name, the less room you and others have to exchange messages.  So “BillTorg” works better for me than “WilliamJosephTorgerson.”
  3. You will be asked to write a short bio for yourself.  Think about what it will say.  Some people’s are silly.  My sister’s is, “What’s on the what what?” Mine explains my job and what I do. I tinker with it quite a bit.
  4. You can link to your Twitter account to another site. Perhaps your Facebook page?
  5. Click on the Twitter link on the classroom website.  It’s
  6. Fill out the “New to Twitter” box.  Complete the steps.  Let me know if there’s additional directions I should have listed here.
  7. I’m @BillTorg on Twitter.  If you tweet and follow me and tell me that you followed these directions, I’ll follow you back. If you don’t know how to do that, there will be another set of directions coming right up.
  8. There’s a lot more you can do with color and customizing your background.  Experiment.

A more sophisticated set of instructions is coming right up.  Love to hear your feedback on this handout and what else you might find useful.