Writing for Writing's Sake
Travel Dates: April 24 - May 7
Instructors: Martha G. Gehringer, Margaret B. Upchurch
Number of Students Enrolled: 18
Location: Ireland


In Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, Margaret Atwood shares a list of 74 reasons that writers have given her in answer to the question “Why do you write?” Every one of these reasons has merit, but for most writers, the single most compelling reason to write is, simply, to write. The practice, in and of itself, is worth the time and the effort.

Because of the demands of life, many of us give up on writing altogether. Some, however, find the time and make the space—usually in isolation and without much recompense.

Most of us think of writing as a solitary act. We write alone, early in the morning before the noise of the day takes us away from ourselves, or deep into the night, when the din has died down. Many of us, however, confess a need to interact with others in our lives as writers. We seek community and find a circle of colleagues (people who are as serious as we are about writing or as interested as we are in a particular genre) and find a way to get together regularly both to write and to talk about writing. Our circle becomes our source, our writing lifeline. It spurs us on and helps us hold fast to our belief in writing—for its own sake.

This May term class is one of those writers’ circles. The course is designed to provide the time and space dedicated to the unabashed pleasure of reading about, talking about, and writing about writing—time and space for the joy of getting to write whatever it is you want to write, whatever it is you mean to say.

The Burren

We will travel to a place where, as the authors of “The Book of the Burren” (Tir Eolis 2001) put it, the landscape has since Neolithic times “delicately affected” the people who have made their homes there. The Burren, they say, is a place where the people have been “laying down an almost bewildering succession of human meanings.” A geographical area “bounded on the north east by a range of mountains stretching from Abbey Hill to Mullaghmore, extending west from Corofin to the Cliffs of Moher, and taking the seas as a natural limit along the north west and north east coastlines,” the Burren is a special place. To many, it is a sacred space. We need to respect this fact. We have a responsibility to our hosts to think of ourselves as writers in residence and as guests, rather than as tourists.

Primary Text

The New York Times Writer’s on Writing: Volume II

Course Requirements

What follows are the specific requirements for completion of the course. Please take note of the point value allotted to each component of the course.

WRITING: At the end of the term, you will be expected to hand in three pieces of polished writing, which will account for 60% of the final grade:

  • A short essay on writing (modeled on the essays in the textbook) for our own edition of “Writers on Writing.” (20%)
  • Approximately 10 pages of revised and polished writing that originated in the group writing sessions or from an independent line of writing. (20%)
  • A brief critical analysis of the work of one Irish writer who you became interested in during your stay in Ireland. The author you choose to investigate need not be a “literary figure,” as this is an interdisciplinary course. Included in this critical analysis should be consideration of the ways in which your travel experience illuminated the writer’s work, or vice versa. Prepare to share the information you have gathered on the life and work of that writer in a 10-minute presentation to your classmates. (20%)

You will be given an opportunity to “publish” this writing on a CD, which we will produce during the final days of the term.

PARTICIPATION: This will count for 40% of your grade. Citizenship is an important component of the course. A portion of the participation grade will be awarded for active involvement and for good faith and attitude in meeting all course obligations. This, of course, includes observing behavior guidelines discussed at the outset of the course, attending all required excursions, maintaining a constructive outlook, cooperating with other students and faculty, and being flexible and helpful. You will receive one warning for serious behavioral transgressions; thereafter, you will be asked to arrange for your transportation home.

ATTENDANCE AND DUE DATES: Attendance is mandatory. Absences are excused only in case of serious illness and documentation from a physician is required. Penalty for absence is five points each, to be subtracted from the participation grade. We do not accept late assignments–no exceptions.

Course Outline

Wednesday, April 21: General session

Thursday, April 22: Lecture on Irish politics by political science professor Jeffrey Freyman, noon; lecture on traditional Irish music by music professor Larry Barnes, 3 p.m.

Friday, April 23: Read broadly from “Writers on Writing;” depart for Ireland.

Saturday, April 24: Expect full day tours of Galway City, Coole Park, and the Aran Islands in the days that follow.

Sunday, April 25: Tour the Burren

Monday, April 26: Two-hour class session or tour

Tuesday, April 27: Two-hour class session or tour

Wednesday, April 28: Two-hour class session or tour

Thursday, April 29: Two-hour class session or tour

Friday, April 30: Two-hour class session or tour

Saturday, May 1: Two-hour class session or tour

Sunday, May 2: Two-hour class session or tour

Monday, May 3: Two-hour class session or tour

Tuesday, May 4: Two-hour class session or tour

Wednesday, May 5: Two-hour class session or tour

Thursday, May 6: Visit with President Mary MacAleese

Friday, May 7: Depart for home

Monday, May 10: Two-hour class session; discussion of excerpts from Margaret Atwood’s “Negotiating with the Dead,” to be provided in handout form.

Tuesday, May 11: Feature film, “The Secret of Roan Inish”

Wednesday, May 12: Two-hour class session; discussion of excerpts from Seamus Heaney’s “Finders Keepers,” to be provided in handout form. Evening: feature film, “The Magdalene Sisters”

Thursday, May 13: Documentary film, “Joyce, Yeats, Wilde or Fairy Faith”

Friday, May 14: Recording session or public reading; documentary film, “Shane Macgowan: If I Should Fall from Grace”

Monday, May 17: Two-hour class session; presentation of “Irish Writer” report

Tuesday, May 18: Celebration