Friday, March 28, 2008

Process Discussions Elsewhere

You all know we've had several process disucssions during the term, trying out several things -- asking questions, offering book recommendations, reading someone else's work aloud for them --

here are some ideas about "how to conduct writing workshops" from sources different from me:

"... Francine Prose talks about her method, which involves strictly forbidding all praise *or* blame when discussing works-in-progress. Students are simply not allowed to say what they "like" or don't. The focus is on analysis, talking about what's on the page, picking apart syntax, clarifying pronoun references, looking for parallels in the imagery and metaphors, describing point of view and how it's working, and so forth."

From workshop participants (various sorts of workshops)

"...I like [written comments] because the first sting of criticism can be rethought when the comments are reread later. ... When someone says they don't "get" something, it is based on the work and if more than one person agrees, it is probably a point to be considered."

"My first workshop ran on the "receive silent" mode, speak only when asked a direct question and afterwards, do not defend your poem, only express thanks or ask questions. ... I note every comment that is made on my copy of the poem in workshop, even the comments I found "foolish". You don't know how many times I have gone back to rewrite after a cooling off period, and found those foolish suggestions had some fingerpointing going on to a weakness that needed revising. Which isn't to say that I incorporate every comment.

What I have discovered about this format is that people are unafraid to make comments that might hurt my feelings, because without a defense, they never get to hear that. The 'look here, and see if you can figure out why this makes me uneasy' comments prove useful."

"... workshop is composed of a series of non-sequitors, each student wants to
have her own say & rarely engages with ideas of other students (until, of course, there's silence, & then someone says "i agree with what blah blah said fifteen
minutes ago"). so, we stick to ideas that get placed on the table, we wrestle with those ideas..."

"... a workshop where the student poems are used to teach something specific. An example: Recently ... I had 3 student poems to "workshop" (I have come to loathe this verb), so I looked for something I could focus on-- endings, in this case. I first went over 2 outside poems: Diane Glancy's "Without Title" and Komunyakaa's "Facing It" so as to show that endings can work differently, that it's possible to talk about difference without ranking."

"One of the things we do at the writing class I am involved in is to critique the works anonymously. Each poem or extract is put up on an overhead projector and read by a volunteer. It can often be really helpful for the writer to hear their work read by someone else. The author is not to respond, explain or defend, but simply to listen to the responses."

A number of people participating in this discussion have mentioned the late Wendy Bishop, Floridian author/editor on many books about creative writing and teaching creative writing.

Several have mentioned that they sibstitute in class free write and exercises for participant comments.

The workshop format was pioneered the the beginning of the Iowa Writers Workshop.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

For years I had
noticed that a lot of students feel disenfranchised with workshops for
various reasons. Some didn't feel engaged or challenged for weeks at
a time, until their turn to be "workshopped" comes up. Some
questioned the merit of a pedogogy that routinely puts students on the
defensive. Some were frustrated by the poor reading skills of their
peers, the dubious motives of some of the critiques, the lack of a
shared terminology.

First, I discovered the five canons of rhetoric, which
sort of function as the backbone for composition studies and for
classical rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and
delivery. I thought that these could easily be applied to poetry
writing instruction, and, after scratching beneath the surface, I
discovered that they were in fact applied to poetry writing
instruction prior to the entrenchment of the workshop model in the

Briefly, invention is about strategies for starting poems, strategies
for revising poems, strategies for considering audience, and
strategies for considering/constructing writing personae; arrangement
is about the study of prosody and traditional versification, different
approaches to free verse, line breaks, stanza breaks, and ways of
going about arranging poems into manuscripts; style is about
imitation/emulation of models, study of tropes and figures, and issues
such as tone, voice, diction, syntax, and clarity; memory is about
memorizing poetry, ways to write memorable poetry, and ways to draw on
memories while writing poetry; delivery is about ways to perform poems
out loud, selection of font, hypertext poetry, and so on. Teachers
who use this model reverse what normally happens in and out of class;
students work on generating and revising poems in class, and they
critique each other outside of class, as homework.

Tom C. Hunley