Last Thursday, writer and teacher C.M. Mayo shared her insights about how writing students can make the most of their workshop experience, and I thought we might like some additional thoughts on the subject from some top-notch teachers, teaching a range of writing students at different levels:
"Etiquette matters more than we might want to admit. When students come to class late because making copies for the class took longer than they expected, additional class time has to be allotted for distribution. Because students—especially beginning students—often learn as much from discussing others' work as they do from receiving comments on their own writing, it's important not to miss workshop sessions. While absences are often unplanned, other students notice when they've put effort into responding to someone's work and then that someone isn't there for them.
"Nancy Andreassen, in The Creating Brain, admits that artistic production is an isolated activity in many ways, but she points out that creativity is fostered when the artist is part of a community, has interaction with other artists, and engages in processes like critique and apprenticeship. Students who foster a workshop community do themselves and each other a great service." ~~Anna Leahy, North Central College
“Know who you are. I know it's a bit shopworn, but Shakespeare is always worth repeating. And also always true: I think some students come into programs expecting/hoping to be "made" into writers. But they already are; they had to be to get in. And we admitted them BECAUSE of who they are. So even though workshops may seem like exercises in transformation, consider them instead a kind of an audience lab. Change your work. Don't change who you are.” ~~Liam Callanan, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
And now, a desperate plea from a university professor who wishes to remain anonymous:
"Characters must be human beings. I'm not talking about fully developed, complex characters, though that is always good. I mean no characters who are vampires, dragons, robots or rodents.
"No abortion stories…unless you have actually had one.
"Seeking therapy (attending AA or similar groups) or taking Prozac is not a sufficient resolution.
"Try to avoid writing about writers, particularly writers with writers' block, staring at their computer curser blinking while their roommate snores."
Next week, I’ll offer my thoughts on what makes a good writing workshop and how participants can work toward that goal.
About: Anna Leahy’s poetry collection Constituents of Matter won the Wick Poetry Prize and will be published by Kent State University Press in September 2007. She is the editor of Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom, a collection of pedagogy essays published by Multilingual Matters and recently reviewed in the journal Pedagogy. Her collaborative work with an art historian on the ekphrastic poetry of Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey appears in ELN and is forthcoming in an anthology on women's ekphrastic writing.
About: Liam Callanan coordinates the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. He's the author of the novels All Saints and The Cloud Atlas.