My ride to and from work is often when I puzzle out things that have been bothering me or that I haven't been able to figure out yet. Biking and running are similar to me in that when I'm doing them well, my mind freely associates and I'm able to come at problems in more creative ways than I can if I just sat down to think about them. So today on my way home, in my free-associative bikey way, I was thinking about the class I went to last night--my second writing workshop fiction class.
I wasn't entirely satisfied with it. In theory, it sounded good: we were all going to come with our two-page stories, we'd take turns reading them out loud, getting feedback, and talking about what worked and didn't work. In the course of our discussions about various stories, we'd come to a deeper understanding about what makes writing good so that we could apply it to the story we'd write for this week.
The problem, it turned out, is that two-page stories, even if there are only 11 of them, take a loooong time to read. We spent so much time reading stories that our discussions of them tended toward the trite--a few comments here and there and then on to the next story. If your story was really good, it probably stoked your ego a little, but if your story was pretty bad, like mine was, it gave very little in the way of constructive feedback. It was nice to hear others' good examples, but that doesn't necessarily give me any help about how to make my own work better. I could just read a whole bunch of really great short stories from the comfort of my own home if that's all I wanted out of this class.
If I were running a writer's workshop, I found myself thinking, I would have just two or three people read their stories out loud and spend a lot of time really talking about them. We'd talk about the authors' decisions about craft and style and tone, the great lines and what made them great, the little thorns that stick out and why they distract the reader, and along the way, everyone would end up with a better idea of what exactly contributed to a good story. Even though we wouldn't all have read our stories and gotten specific feedback on our own writing in any given class period, we'd still leave with concrete ideas of how we could make our writing better, based on what we talked about in other stories.
And then I realized. Whoa. I AM teaching a writer's workshop, and I AM taking exactly the approach I don't like, the approach we took in my fiction class of yesterday. ALL my students are sharing their work, and we're only sharing to publish. We clap after someone shares, and we take notes about anything we liked, but we don't talk about what was good, what we might try in our own writing; really, we don't debrief at all. Sharing isn't a learning experience the way it could be, it's more of a right of passage, something my students have to do when they're done writing. And though I'm sure they wouldn't articulate it the way I just did, I wonder if many of my students are frustrated by their sharing the same way I was frustrated about my own writing workshop experience.
I've got to make my writing workshop--the one I'm teaching, I mean--better!