Everything comes together in the Capstone. You will draft a complete story, narrative essay, or memoir of 8–15 pages. With the advice of your peer readers, you will revise, rewrite, and complete it. The skills you’ve learned of plotting, setting, physical description, characterization, and stylistic clarity and innovation will culminate in an original work of art all your own. We’ll discuss the steps that professional writers take to bring their work into the public world. Along the way you’ll learn the patient habits of revision that make up the writer’s life.
Introduction to the Capstone and Gathering Materials
This week we lay out the agenda of the Capstone—seven weeks of structured work in which you’ll proceed from your accumulated notes and exercises to a finished piece: Your Story. We discuss the upcoming sequence of critiques of your fellow students’s work and you assemble the materials for your first draft.
Having gathered all your scraps, notes, research, exercises into one place, you now get moving on the first draft. Through interviews with Jaimy Gordon and Amy Bloom, we discuss composition strategies—the different ways different writers have approached the blank page and how they get moving toward a coherent whole.
Finishing the First Draft
Compose, compose, compose. This week is devoted completely to pushing through that crucial deadline: finishing your first draft by the end of the week. As you compose, you’ll get some advice from successful Wesleyan alumni writers who have gone from where you are to published books out there in the world.
Now that you’ve finished your first draft, it’s time to get ready for the first big peer review. This week we’ll talk about how to give good critique, and we’ll present a sample story and sample workshop. At the end of the week, you’ll write critiques of three of your fellow students’ work while they are busy critiquing yours.
Using Critique and Sanding
Some of the critiques you’ve received will seem immediately right, some more challenging, some may seem averse to your goals. This week we discuss the “Dear Workshop” Letter: a way of settling your thoughts and making decisions about what to do with all that sometimes conflicting advice as you proceed toward the final draft. We also take a moment to do a shorter critique focused more closely on the word-level decisions that you and your fellow-writers have made. You’ll perform a “sanding revision” on a single page of three of your fellow writers’ stories—you’ll report to the writer all the places her language or punctuation could use clarifying, and, just as important, where they’re already working at their best.
Rewriting and Publication
If the theme of Week Three was Compose, compose, compose, this week’s theme is Revise, rewrite; revise, rewrite. We’ll discuss different ways of reading and approaching your draft to catch the action and the language and the characterization from different angles. Through a conversation with Brando Skyhorse, we’ll also take a moment to discuss what to do after the class if you hope some day soon to publish your work.
Where to Go From Here?
By the end of this week, you will finish the final version of your story. We’ll discuss ways of continuing the creative momentum that’s brought you this far—whether through writers’ groups or conferences, or just through a daily writing practice. Once you turn in the final version of your piece, you’ll perform final critiques of the stories of three of your fellow writers and will likewise receive their evaluations of your work. Congratulations: you will have completed the Specialization.