Essay One (e1)

Writing 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 would like you to write an essay in the spirit of Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. By this I don’t mean that you should try to imitate Woolf—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. But I would like you to identify something that Woolf does as a writer that strikes you as interesting or compelling, and to see if you can do something like it in your own work.

I’ve already identified one such move: In the opening pages of A Room, Woolf tells us that she is not going to try to prove a thesis so much as to explain what “led me to think this” (6).  Start with that. Imagine that your task is to explain what has led you to think something about an issue that matters to you—much as Woolf tries to describe why she has come to believe that, if she wants to write,  “a woman must have money and a room of her own” (6). How can you use Woolf’s example to develop a similar “train of thought” of your own?

Perhaps you’ll find it useful to tell a story rather than make 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 perhaps you’ll want to imagine alternatives to familiar stories, as she does with Shakespeare’s sister.  Or maybe there’s something about how Woolf structures paragraphs, 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 decide to to write about something else. The only requirement is that you write on issue that is in some way “controversial” (6), as Woolf puts it, and that you have an opinion about. (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 w1, I’ll ask you to work with any of the ideas and writerly moves you find in Chapters 1–3 of A Room; in w2, to do similar work with Chapters 4 and 5; in w3, to work with any idea or move in 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.

I’ll have more to say about all of the stages of this assignment as we come to them. In the meantime, here is what you should plan for:


  1. Mon, 2/23: w1
  2. Mon, 3/02: w2
  3. Mon, 3/09: w3
  4. Mon, 3/16: e1d2
  5. Tues, 3/17: workshop
  6. Mon, 3/23: revising plan (w4)
  7. Tues, 3/24, or Wed, 3/25: conferences
  8. Mon, 4/06: e1d3 (final)


UD | Spring 2015 | #060 Tues/Thurs, 12:30-1:45 Purnell 329