U professor creates a rigorous writing course to turn students into authors.

Learning About Yourself Through Writing

This class is not for the faint of heart,” reads the end of the course description for a new, nationally recognized course developed by professor Michael Gills of the Honors College at the U. Gills, an accomplished novelist, originated and led the course based on his own methodology.

Selected from a group of 40, 10 students signed contracts to be part of a rigorous 30-week writing schedule. The schedule included practices such as waking at 4:30 a.m. five days per week to post on the course site, writing two to three pages daily, meeting each week for two to three hours and the aspiration of writing a full-length novel (250-300 pages) to be turned in instead of an exam during finals spring semester. “The students had mostly never engaged such a process of rising before light, writing several hours on a daily basis, which affects all areas of life, and it was hard, quite difficult, a real hard row to how,” Gills said.

Students were encouraged to have their writing also be reflective and meditative of their personal journey of being engaged in the process, to “dig themselves to the bone” for inspiration and sought to convey that the evolution of their novel as inexorable from their evolution as a person. “I discovered the person I want to be by writing the person I didn’t want to be,” said Anna Drysdale, a language and literature student, one of the students selected for the course, about her journey. “I can go back and see where I was emotional in my writing.”

The course produced a number of significant successes for the students’ work such as receiving the Marriott Honors Thesis Award, acceptance for publication by a national press and publication in national literary journals, such as “Ocean State Review” and “Texas Review.” Additionally, Professor Gills wrote a novel along with the students — now under consideration at his publisher.

The class may not be for the faint of heart, but it encouraged students to follow theirs.

“The course pushed me past my absolute breaking point, but I’m coming out the other end with a published novel and a skill-set I never would have gained otherwise,” said Laurel Myler, whose novel “Big Sky” has been picked up by Dog Star Books and will be published under a different title in 2016. “This experience has given me the courage to pursue my dream of being a novelist professionally.”

honors.utah.edu/students/engaged-learning/novel/

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Find this article and a lot more in the 2016 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers and entrepreneurs.

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