Friday, February 18, 2011

Workshop Grades: The Fifty-Point Scale

For this semester's workshop assignments, I grade in 5-pt intervals based on a fifty-point scale.  Before worrying too much about how the scale will affect your grade, I'd like you to consider how I use the scale to tell you about your writing.

Creative Writing: Can I Really Write the "50-pt" Story or Poem?
 50 points is very difficult to achieve, even for me. On a good day, I usually write fiction around a 40 - I can usually revise my own stories to a 45 and sometimes a 50. Writing poetry, I usually start somewhere between 30-40, but it's much harder for me to revise my poetry to a 45 - I don't know that I've ever written a poem that would earn a 50. But I have read a few IFP poems of that caliber, and I've also read a few IFP stories of that caliber.

I tell you this because writing is a continuous process for each of us, regardless of level or experience.  "Writing a 50" isn't simply a matter of "this person is a '50-pt Writer.'"  Writing the 50-pt story is a question of the characterization, conflict, attention to detail, and careful revision applied to the individual story.  You'll note that in the grading below, I categorize each grade not only by the quality of the work, but also by what stage of the writing process the story is in.  A story that receives a lower grade isn't necessarily a worse story - it may simply be that the story needs more work before it reaches its full potential.

Please note that your overall course grade is not based simply on the individual stories.  Instead you are graded on your overall progress as a writer.  I give rough drafts 100% (10/10) because writing a rough draft is one of the most important parts of improving as a writer. Honestly, I would rather grade workshop pieces that way, too, but it isn't fair to hand out grades at the end of a writing course without giving some early indication of your progress as a writer.  The other major component of your progress as a writer comes in your ability to read and discuss literature, and this is evaluated through the quizzes and your participation grades.

As IFP 2 students, most of your writing grades will probably be starting somewhere in the 20-40 range.  Yes, this is a broad range - from past experience, I've seen that most groups of students have a broad range of natural ability and learned talent.  My goal is to see each of you reach the 35-45 range in your writing by the end of the semester.

Now, I understand the temptation to think "45 is 90%, and that's only an A-..."  Please avoid this.  Letter grade percentages only really work when considering your overall course grades.  I've purposefully boosted the value of the rough drafts in order to give lower grades on the writing assignments - it's the only way I could possibly differentiate between someone writing at the Jane Austen/Emily Dickinson level (really, really good - usually in the 50's or even 60's) from someone writing at the John Grisham/Danielle Steele level (also really good, but not quite that good - maybe 45's?).  And we haven't even considered authors like Vonnegut (40-55?), Shakespeare (45-55?), J.K. Rowling (45-50? 60+?), Sylvia Plath (55?), or Stephenie Meyer (35? 45? 55+? 6i*3x^2?).

Just remember - writing is hard work, but it comes with many intrinsic rewards.  And the best writers - every writer, in fact - is born illiterate.  Except maybe Stephen King.  I'm pretty sure he was doing Princeton Review in the womb.  And also note that every story is different.  Some of the best stories have no dialogue at all - sometimes, they might have no setting, or possibly no characters.  Granted, these are exceptions, but they illustrate one important rule about the grading scale: it's an inexact science.


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