WRT 3086:
Workshop in Creative Nonfiction
Oakland University
Winter 2021


Jim Nugent




Course Description

Creative writing workshop with emphasis on stories of real life, balancing artistry and accuracy. May include personal essay, autobiography or travel literature. Prerequisite: completion of the university writing foundation requirement. 4 credits. WRT 3086 general education attributes.

Required Texts

Readings will be provided.

Specific Course Outcomes

In this course, students will:

Course Policies

Writing Support

Writing Center: The Oakland University Writing Center is open to OU students, faculty, and staff in all disciplines at any stage of the writing process. The center provides writers with an interested and supportive audience of well-trained consultants who help both novices and experts develop ideas and revise drafts into polished products. Students in WRT classes are strongly encouraged to visit the Writing Center. 

Students who wish to have additional support for their writing (in a writing and rhetoric course or any other writing or writing intensive course across the university) should consider registering for the 1-credit course WRT 1000: Supervised Study. WRT 1000 provides students with weekly one-on-one meetings with a writing and rhetoric instructor who can help them design their research, develop drafts, and revise. These meetings are scheduled for a time that is convenient for the student. This semester, the Writing and Rhetoric Department is offering two full-semester sections of WRT 1000 (CRN: 15489 and 11302), and we may offer a second-half semester section of the course as well.


I will be using labor-based contract grading to assess all work in this class. This means that it will be within your power to determine what grade you wish to earn because, instead of relying on rubrics and grading standards to calculate your grades on our work together, I will be giving you either full credit or no credit for the assignments you complete. I have built in some missable assignments into the contract, so you will be able to choose your own path through the work and, more importantly, since this is a writing class, you will be able to take some risks with your writing without being penalized.

I've posted a few resources explaining what contract grading is and why I believe writing faculty should employ this system of evaluation. But for me, the best argument for using contract grading in a creative nonfiction class comes from a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson titled "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" While the entire video is worth experiencing, this line stands out to me as especially relevant to the work we will do this semester: “We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it.” Grades play a pretty big role in educating creativity out of us.

Contract grading will allow you to experiment, play, and take some creative risks without the fear of damaging your grade in this class or hurting your GPA overall. If you are someone who always worries about grades, this might be a difficult transition for you, but I hope you'll find contract grading more liberating as you focus on the goals you set for yourself and forget rubrics, evaluation criteria, and carefully parsed grades (for example, "Why did I get a 3.6 on this one weekly activity rather than a 3.7?").

Here's how contract grading works. You and I will focus on your learning. You will complete a certain number of assignments (fulfilling the requirements for those assignments) to receive grades in each of the categories above (adding up to 100% possible). If you choose to complete fewer assignments or you don't fulfill the requirements for those assignments, you will receive a lower percentage. I will post a grading contract sheet in week 2, and I will ask you to post your own contract, shared just between you and me, by week 3. You may change your mind, adjust your own expectations for your work as the semester moves on, of course, but this initial contract will be something you can use to keep a check on how you're doing in the class. We'll meet one-on-one around mid-semester to discuss how you're doing with your grading contract and make any adjustments we both think are necessary for you to learn the material and grow as a writer.

The final grade will be weighted as follows:


Online Activities. Activities will be due generally on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights by 11:59 p.m. These activities are tied to your class attendance (completing the assignments designates you as "present" in class for that day). Typically, these assignments will consist of one or more of the following:

  • Forum Stories and Responses: 750–1,000 word original works of your own creative nonfiction, with attention to style, theme, structure, and use of elements such as descriptive detail, narrative pacing, dialogue, effective beginnings and endings, and thematic sophistication. Two of these works will be transformed into your 2,000-word major projects in this class, following a number of cycles of drafts and peer review. Responses to Forum Stories should be about 500 words each, to 2–3 classmates (as assigned) for each forum story. In these, you will note areas of strengths and suggest areas for development.
  • Reading Forums: 500–1,000 word reflections on reading assignments.
  • Journal Keeping: 250-word entries relating elements of your day-to-day life with the times in which we find ourselves this fall. Consider this an opportunity to record your thoughts, hopes, and fears, to make a record of your life—both the mundane and the exceptional. You will post these as an assignment, not to be shared with classmates. 
  • Quizzes, check-ins, etc.: These will be infrequent and they provide me with an opportunity to confirm that you're engaging with the online course and that you're doing okay with the workload.


Project 1: Memoir


Project 2: Research

Your grade for the online activities category will be determined by the number of missing or incomplete activities, which are worth 2, 3, or 4 penalty points depending on the nature of the activity.

Penalty Points Grade
0–9 A
10–12 A–
13–15 B+
16–18 B
19–21 B–
22–24 C+
25–27 C
28–30 C–
31–33 D+
34–36 D
37–39 D–
40+ F

ADA Notice

Students with disabilities who may require reasonable accommodations should contact Oakland University’s Disability Support Services office for assistance: