Note: Writers to be workshopped must have twenty (20) hard copies of their work to hand out to classmates on the class meeting before they are scheduled to workshop. You also need to email a digital version of your workshop handout to Steve and Andrea (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com). Failure to be prepared for your workshop session will have a serious impact on your grade.
Workshop #1 T Jan 31 (pass out work on Thursday, January 26)
Workshop #2 R Feb 2 (pass out work on Tuesday, January 31)
Workshop #3 T Feb 14 (pass out work on Thursday, February 2)
Workshop #4 R Feb 16 (pass out work on Tuesday, February 14)
Workshop #5 T Feb 28 (pass out work on Thursday, February 16)
Workshop #6 R March 2 (pass out work on Tuesday, February 28)
Workshop #7 T March 7 (pass out work on Thursday, March 2)
Workshop #8 R March 9 (pass out work on Tuesday, March 7)
Workshop #9 T March 21 (pass out work on Thursday, March 9)
The workshop is an important part of a creative writing class and a unique (and sometimes terrifying) experience for writers. Since the writing life is so often one person toiling on the work alone, getting the chance to hear feedback from an enthusiastic community of peers can be useful and invigorating. Other than our writing practice, it is the activity at which creative writers ought to work hardest. Workshops can be anxiety-filled situations for (new) writers or those unfamiliar with the process, but it helps if we think of the work we bring to the workshop as neither as bad as we think nor as good. It is likely somewhere in the middle.
Then again, it’s often fun and thrilling to hear people analyze and argue about your work. It is surprising what other readers can find there that we would never see ourselves.
The feedback we get from workshops can be both enlightening and useful, but the truth is, all of it is not. After you workshop work, however, it is important to develop a radar about which suggestions ought to be adopted, which can be discarded, and why.
For the purposes of this class, we will workshop as follows.
What to bring:
The class before you are scheduled to workshop, please bring enough typed copies of your work with your name on it to distribute to the class. Limit what you hand out to approximately 1,500 words or less or no more than eight pages of lineated poetry. Don’t forget to print a copy for yourself, too.
Workshops are the most productive if we share work that is in progress or that we need to see a reaction to. We need to be open to suggestions and the possibility that the work can be changed, improved, or overhauled. It is ill-advised to bring work that is too raw, meaning either it is still too emotionally connected to us to the point where we may defend it at all cost and not be open to suggestion or it is not well-wrought enough yet (read: too sloppy) for readers. It is also not a great idea for newer writers to bring work that we consider done or finished or that we are not intent on revising (there is a time for this kind of workshopping, but it comes after you’ve developed writing skills and a critical sensibility about dealing with a large number of comments).
For Responders at home:
For each full-class workshop, we should study the work we receive. Studying a work means reading the text at least twice (the more readings, the more we notice) and marking up the page as we read. Remember, the nuances and facets of a text often do not reveal themselves at first glance. When we mark texts, it is best to look for surface-level edits and global characteristics we want to mention in workshop. Underlining, writing marginal notes, and drawing connecting lines across the page between passages or stanzas can all be effective strategies, but please, please, cover the page in mark-ups.
After you’ve studied the work and marked up the text, provide at least one page of typed comments. In comments, we should offer our unbiased reading of the work first, describing what we think it is doing or trying to do. Comments can explain mark-up notes in detail or discuss perception of the author’s intention and their ability to achieve that intention in the text. Typed comments can attempt to parse deeper meanings, plots, structures, and strategies or offer possible revisions, expansions, connections to other authors this text reminded you of, and myriad other miscellaneous ideas. In short, the typed comments should describe the work in question first and then offer possible changes with reasons why. It should be our goal to offer suggestions that help the work become what it is supposed to be and what we perceive to be the author’s intention for creating it, which seldom includes revising the piece to be more like something we would write.
Include your name on the typed comments and attach them to your marked-up copy of the text.
Our workshops will have a deliberate process. First, the author will read the work aloud, possibly twice if it is short. Then we will all have a little bit of time to think and reconsider the work in context of hearing it read. After this time, responders should attempt to describe what the work is doing, keeping opinion and suggestion for change on the backburner for now. If you hear a description that conflicts with yours, you should offer your own reading of the text, too. Once the responders have described the text, then we can move on to other areas of the work that are praiseworthy or those that might warrant revision. Make sure the praise or revision suggestions you offer are followed with specific evidence from the text that supports your claim.
During this part of the workshop, the author should refrain from speaking, even if asked a question, taking note of comments and questions, and who posed them, in writing on his or her copy of the text. Once the workshop has a lull in offering feedback, the author can ask questions of the group, ask for clarification about comments that are unclear, or respond to questions posed about the work, if needed. At this time, the author might be tempted to defend or explain the writing, but this should be avoided, as the energy that might be put toward a defense or explanation is better served in revising the writing later on. The author’s questions and clarifications may lead to new dialogue and discussion. When there is a lull, the workshop will proceed to the next author and text.
Everyone should participate in workshop as your reading and interpretation of the work is valid and needs to be shared. If the above system, however, is being engaged by too few voices, we will use the following system: the responders will go around the room until everyone has made an informed comment about the work. The organic system described above is more natural and thus preferred to this more mechanical system, but if this system is needed to foster participation, so be it.
This whole process of workshopping should take about 20 to 25 minutes per writer. The instructor will guide the workshop, draw out additional feedback when comments are too vague or unclear, and participate like other workshop participants. We will study and respond to the work of two writers per workshop according to the above schedule.