In my training this week we’ve been talking about using workshops in our first-year writing courses. It’s old news, I suppose, that some people find the workshop to not be all that helpful, but I’ve always liked them. Well, perhaps not always, but definitely ever since I stopped thinking that the real purpose of a workshop is to make a better piece of writing. To me, good workshops should be teaching evaluation skills and preferences. A writer whose work is not up for evaluation should be getting pretty much the same amount of useful material from the workshop as should the writer being workshopped. Because, really, it’s not about your piece so much as it is about your (or our) tendencies.
Today we sat in on a presentation for a piece of online workshop software. You submit your work online and your professor or teacher assigns your piece to some (or all) of the class. Then the evaluators look at the piece of writing and critique it. But what makes this software different from an in-person workshop is the fact that the professor can set criteria. For instance, if your class were workshopping resumes, the professor might include check boxes asking if the writer had included contact information, if the jobs were presented in an appropriate order, etc. Then, the software runs some equations and shows the professor some stats that can reflect some information about the class as a whole. So if only 63% of your class has an obvious thesis statement in your five-paragraph essay assignment (we don’t still assign those, do we?), you know you might need to review. Read more »
I avoid writing about Race. I know that I avoid writing about Race. I know that my mother and my counselor think this means I don’t think of myself as someone affected by Race. That’s just not true. But I do have other intentions for not writing about race. I like to think that every time I meet new people or they read my work I somehow redefine what their perspective on what it means to be a black woman in America. Pause for my ego. But I am serious.
Stereotypes have roots in the truth. Anyone who denies that is naive. But I like to think about stereotypes as the first blueprint on a house: there will be several more drafts. By the time a house is to be built, there are a gazillion blueprints and they’re all different. Sure, they might contain elements of the original but each is unique . Maybe that’s too basic, but I tend to think people make Race so damn complicated. Or worse, they avoid it. I tend to do both.
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Has my inner critic been workshopping my pieces behind my back?
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I’ve officially climbed out of the tower. I finished my third degree, and I’m done with academia, at least as a student. And I have to say, I kind of feel like I want to give my brain a bath, get all that academic nonsense outta there. Only the nonsense, not the good sense. But sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Example: My boyfriend and I have been writing language arts lessons for a website for pay this summer. The way it works is you write a lesson, turn it in to the online submission manager, and wait. They give the lesson to three reviewers who then give you feedback. You’re supposed to take that feedback and use it to revise your lesson. Pretty simple really. But yesterday Dylan received reviews of his very first lesson. Two of them were very positive, didn’t want him to change much, but one of them was kind of scathing (if something can be kind of scathing) as if this reviewer (who we’ve decided is a little old lady who hates creativity and fun) was out to get him from the start. Everything was wrong, according to this reviewer, the whole lesson a failure.
Unfortunately, this reminded me of graduate poetry workshops. Read more »
This article about John McNally’s novel After the Workshop came out a few weeks ago, so perhaps some of you have seen it, but I’ve had it open in its own tab for close to two weeks now because I’m not sure what to think of it. First, I have to think that my own personal feelings toward the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (which basically boil down to the simplistic statement that I’ve never had any desire to go there) are probably coloring my thoughts on the article. And I guess I do sort of get sick of all the anger directed at the MFA program, but I tend to think I’m in the minority, unfortunately. Or, if it is a majority, it’s a rather silent one.
But back on topic. I do actually think this is an interesting idea, though one that turns the workshop into a big enough social issue to write a book on (the article references The Financial Lives of the Poets, and I tend to think of satire as being about, well, bigger things than workshops). I don’t get the impression that this is supposed to be a closed-circuit book, written only for writers or, more broadly, academics.
But take a look at the interview. There’s some interesting stuff there, from whether or not writing short stories hampers a novelist’s career to the death of great critics, from people who aren’t hardwired to “get” humor to the existence of new ideas.