A Writing Workshop, By Any Other Name
May 30, 2008 § 4 Comments
And speaking of The Kenyon Review, the KR Blog makes note of yet another “withering attack” on the concept of writing workshops. The attacks just seem to come without end, from people who very often have little idea what they are talking about. Hanif Kureishi is certainly one of them.
But this latest stupid attack did force to me to reflect some on my pedagogy, and it finally hit me, like a soft mallet to the head, that I don’t teach a writing workshop – I’m not sure many of us in the academic creative writing field actually do – I teach an editing workshop.
Here’s what I mean:
A good workshop assists a young writer in seeing how a reader might encounter and experience their manuscript (with the help of some artificial readers – the workshop members.) Then, with the help of a prodding and encouraging teacher, the student is helped to see how to take what she has learned and re-vision what she has already written.
She learns how to take a muddy scene and make it clear. How to take a soggy bit of language and make it crisp. How to take a limp narrative arc and find some spine. How to take an undifferentiated character and create, well, character.
She learns, too, how voice can be altered, and how small changes can make a difference in point-of-view. This is editing that is being taught, and more specifically, self-editing. A student who learns the rigors and wonders of self-editing, before launching her work into the world, has learned quite a bit, and has greatly increased her chances of finding a publisher/audience.
We should call it an editing workshop, then, or a revision workshop, since that’s what we are teaching and modeling. If it were truly a writing workshop, those of us who teach would be standing over our students’ shoulders as they attempted their first drafts, and goodness knows I don’t do that.
So let’s call them poetry editing workshops, or creative nonfiction editing workshops, and do away with the perennial and pointless question: “Can writing be taught?”