Student Centered Office Hours

Those of us who teach Creative Writing usually have the luxury that our students actively choose to be in the class. When they come to office hours they can be greedy for reassurance, certainly, but also for personalized guidance. The instructor has an obligation not to give unrealistic expectations for the writing life or their place in it, but often the best guidance comes from an exploration of what the students themselves know about their own needs.

I see office hours not as teacher-to-student but mainly student-to-teacher directed. This is the personal time the student has with you, so it I see your role as mainly to ask questions:

  • What do you think is the main strength of this piece/your writing?
  • What do you need to work on?
  • Which of your characters works best?
  • Why is that?
  • What comes first for you: character, plot, image, what?
  • How do you work (and all the attendant questions that inevitably come in an author Q&A): morning or afternoon, every day or to deadline, pen and paper or computer?
  • Who do you like to read?
  • Paper or e-book?
  • Have you read so-and-so?
  • What interferes with your writing?
  • What do you think is the best thing to do about that?
  • What do you have time for when you don’t have time for writing?
  • Could you try changing your pattern for two weeks?
  • Could you think of writing as something you allow yourself to do, instead of something you have to do?
  • Where would you like to be as a writer in five years, ten, twenty?
  • Which parts of writing are most difficult for you?
  • What makes you happy about your writing?
  • What makes you unhappy?
  • Is writing easy?
  • Would it be better to make it more difficult, or easier?
  • Are there some ways of doing that?
  • Is writing scary?

The danger of this kind of office hour is that you will get to know a student more intimately than you may wish to. The advantage is that she/he will take you seriously and believe that you care about the work.



Feature image by Sander Smeekes on Unsplash
Distinguished Professor Emerita at Florida State University

Janet Burroway is the author eight novels including The Buzzards, Raw Silk, Opening Nights, Cutting Stone, and the 2009 Bridge of Sand. Her Writing Fiction (9th edition) is the most widely used creative writing text in America, and Imaginative Writing has appeared in its 4th edition. Her plays include Medea With Child, Morality Play (a musical), Boomerang and Headshots, which have received readings and productions in New York, London, San Francisco, Hollywood, and Chicago. A collection of essays by older women writers, A Story Larger Than My Own, was published in 2014 by University of Chicago Press, and her memoir Losing Tim also appeared in the spring of 2014. She is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita at the Florida State University and was chosen for the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Writing Award by the Florida Humanities Council.


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