My Promises to My Workshop

This week’s request to talk a bit about leading a writing workshop is timely because the Spring Semester begins at Ohio State today, and this evening, I’ll be meeting with my MFA fiction workshop for the first time. Here are some things I promise to do as I lead this workshop. I offer them here for anyone who may be thinking about teaching a workshop or for those who may want to think about how to be productive members of such a workshop.

I promise:

1.  to set a tone of mutual respect, generous inquiry, collaboration, and good humor.

2.  to not take myself too seriously and to encourage others to check their egos at the door.

3.  to create a safe environment in which writers can know their opinions will matter and where they can try the sorts of things they need in order to tell the stories only they can tell.

4. to invite opinions other than my own, no matter how aesthetically divergent; to make sure the students have their chance to be heard and to know that their opinions matter.

5. to do my best to zero in on what each writer is attempting in each piece given to the workshop and to offer my best suggestions for helping the piece more fully realize its intentions.

6. to stress that any piece is the result of a series of artistic choices and the effects they create and to invite students to talk about what’s working in a piece and to point to those places where they felt really engaged.

7. to offer direct criticism in a tactful and questioning way as I invite students to wonder along with me what might happen if a different artistic choice were made.

8. to emphasize to my students that our first drafts are always smarter than we are; they know where they want to go and what they want to be, and mutually supportive conversation along with constructive criticism can help us become more aware of how the piece is trying to work.

9. to sum up the important points at the end of the discussion, so the writer can formulate a more specific revision plan.

10. to forgive myself and others on the occasions when we fall short of our obligations to one another; to remember we are all flawed individuals doing the very best we can.




  1. Tina Neyer on January 12, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Lee, I love lists, thanks for creating this. I’m working on a few workshop ideas for the Greater Cincinnati area and this will be very helpful as I put things together.

    • Lee Martin on January 14, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      Tina, good luck with the workshops. I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking of starting some. Happy New Year to you!

  2. Richard Gilbert on January 14, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    These are great principles and guidelines—not just for workshopping or teaching writing but for any class, any subject. Thanks, Lee.

  3. Lee Martin on January 14, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you, Richard. Happy New Year to you!

  4. Lauren Cowen on March 2, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Thank you, Lee, for yet another insightful post and for this helpful, wise guide.

    Lauren Cowen

    • Lee Martin on March 2, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, Lauren. We all need a little encouragement from time to time. Keep doing the good work!

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