Essay One

IMG_0548Writing With Woolf

I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as I can  the train of thought which led me to think this (6).

In this, your first piece for this course, I’d like you to write an essay in the spirit or mode of Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. Note that I have titled your task here as writing with Woolf, not writing like her. I don’t want you to imitate Woolf—to try to sound like her or to mimic her views. There would be little sense in any of us pretending to be an upper-class British woman writing almost a century ago. Rather, I want you to identify something that Woolf does to develop her “train of thought” as a writer, and to see if you can do something similar in your own work.

Let me say a little more about this idea of writing with an authorIn the opening pages of A Room, Woolf tells us that she is not going to try to “come to a conclusion”, but rather to “do what I can to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money” (6).  Start with that. Imagine that your task here is to show your readers how you “arrived at an opinion” about an issue that matters to you—much as Woolf tries to describe how she has come to believe that, if she wants to write, “a woman must have money and a room of her own” (6). See if you can draw on Woolf’s example to develop a “train of thought” of your own.

And so, for instance, you might try to tell a story that leads into an argument—as Woolf does in Chapter 1. Or perhaps you’ll want to look at what other people have had to say about the issue you’re writing about—as she does in Chapter 2. Or you might imagine alternatives to familiar stories, as she does with Shakespeare’s sister. Or maybe there’s something about how Woolf moves from one paragraph to the next, or uses images, or quotes from other texts, or does any other number of things as a writer, that you’d like to try out. The choice is yours.

As is the choice of what you write on. Your topic does not have to be women and writing. In fact it’s probably better if you write about something else. The only requirement is that you write on an issue that is in some way “controversial” (6), as Woolf uses the term. Otherwise you will have no “train of thought” to develop.

This is a difficult assignment, and I’ll offer you a number of opportunities to get started on it. In p1, I’ll ask you to work with any of the ideas and writerly moves you find in Chapters 1 or 2 of A Room; in p2, to do similar work with Chapters 3 or 4; in p3, to work with the book as a whole. In e1d2, I’ll then ask you to pick one of those three beginning pieces and to develop it into an essay. Then, in e1d3, you’ll have a chance to refine that essay for a letter grade.

You’ll thus be working with Woolf for several weeks. As you do so, you’ll want to think about which parts of her approach you want to adopt, to make part of your toolkit as a writer, and which you want to adapt, to change to suit your aims and needs in writing.

Good luck! I look forward to reading your work, and I’ll have more to say about all of the stages of this assignment as we go along. In the meantime, here is what you should plan for:


  1. Mon, 2/22, 11:00 am: p1
  2. Mon, 2/29,11:00 am: p2
  3. Mon, 3/07,11:00 am: p3
  4. Tues, 3/08: Conferences
  5. Mon, 3/14,11:00 am: e1d2
  6. Tues, 3/15: Workshops
  7. Mon, 3/21,11:00 am: p4 (revising plan)
  8. Fri, 3/25, 5:00 pm: e1d3 (final)