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.
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.