Whenever you have something you'd like the class to workshop, do the following:

  1. Send your piece to the whole class. (You can email us as a group using the email tool in Blackboard.) Attach your work to the message as a Word document. DON'T FORGET TO PUT YOUR NAME AND PAGE NUMBERS ON THE DOCUMENT ITSELF. Also put some good identifying info on the email subject line, so we don't think it's spam and delete it  ;)
  2. Provide a second copy of the piece in our Blackboard Pub. See instructions there for how to post.
  3. Do #1 and #2 above no later than Tuesday night of the week you'll be workshopped.


What is a writer's workshop?

The writer's workshop takes as its model, in part, the art studio: members submit their ongoing creative work for discussion, feedback, and critique. The basic method was developed at the University of Iowa in mid-century, and has become very widespread in Creative Writing programs across the country.

Our workshops will be very serious in purpose, but at the same time casual and friendly. They are NOT meant to be "grillings" or "flamings" or otherwise hostile events. We're all writers and we're here to provide an audience for each other and help each other along.

Workshops are great for the writers, but possibly even greater for the critiquers, since this method forces us to articulate difficult thoughts about writing. It also forces the workshoppers to sharpen their critical awareness and judgment. ("Critical" here doesn't mean nasty or harsh; it means a kind of creative, analytical, and discriminating thought we can apply to any work of art or literature in order to understand it better or in new ways.)

Keep in mind that workshops are not just editing sessions. It's perfectly ok to tell a writer about some mechanical flaw in their work, or to discuss formal problems such as weak plot, flat characters or whatnot. But we're not here just to "fix" a story or a poem. An unfinished story or poem can go in many directions, and I see our task as helping the writer to consider and explore the best possibilities. To a large extent, workshop is about experiencing the whole muddy, gummy, goopy terrain of literary art. That is, we're also here to better understand writing itself—not just produce "perfect" poems or stories.

You should expect our workshop discussions to occasionally take some odd and interesting turns and digressions. These digressions are inevitable and HEALTHY; as creative writers you should allow these sessions to suggest ideas for your work, you should SEIZE the interesting and the accidental. (Always keep your notebook ready for jottings!) Such conversations are inevitable too since no story or poem exists in a social void. And our wayward discussions are inevitable too because, well, writers often just like to blab. About everything.

One final thought. Workshops (for the most part, or for our purposes) are about student writing, not students as people. Voicing a reservation about someone's work is not an attack, and certainly not an attack on that person as a human being. In some ways your writing is indeed your "identity"—your writing actually creates, reflects, or otherwise heavily invests your identity—but for the purpose of successful workshopping, it's usually best to keep your writing and your personal identity or ego separate. If someone's work personally offends another class member, there may be genuinely important issues at stake and we may discuss the problem. But just remember that editorial critique is not the same thing as personal attack.

This is all about making our writing better. And we're certainly not here to just flatter each other and pat each other on the back. Nothing but positive, flattering comments do nothing to help a person become a better writer. Our aim is balanced, useful, thought-provoking feedback, and discussions about issues near and far that relate to the writing life.



A lot of times, after class, you may think of something you'd WISH you'd said in workshop, you have additional feedback for the student writers whose work we've discussed, or you just have questions, ideas, want to yack, etc. That's what the Chat Room is for in Blackboard. Feel free to make postings there any time, and try to read it every week before class.



10 Most Common Workshop NOTS


Almost all of the following student comments have some validity. They also, however, invite or promote a number of troubles in any discussion of your poems or stories. At the very least, they are each questionable; a drag, a cop-out, an evasion; a discussion-stopper and a reflection of inexperience. At some point in the semester, we may discuss how and why they cause problems—even though they're not exactly "wrong."


  1. “I meant for those lines or that passage to be confusing.”

    Or: “I wanted it to be vague and general on purpose.”


  1. “I like this poem because I too had a red bicycle when I was 10 years old.”

    Or: “I didn’t care for this story. The characters are all late-middle-aged lawyers and CEOs in Manhattan and I’m a 19-year old livestock management major in North Dakota.”


  1. “I don’t revise. My poems [stories] come out a certain way the first time and they’re done.”


  1. “This story [poem] is stupid.”


  1. Teacher: “Offer some observations about and insights into this poem."
    Student: “I didn’t like it.”


  1. “I don’t think we should criticize this poem. Everyone’s got their opinion and poetry’s about whatever you want it to be.”

Or: “This story means whatever you want it to mean.”

  1. “Poetry is writing that is completely free."

  2. “This poem is about a heartbreaking experience and so we shouldn’t criticize it.”

  3. “I just whipped this poem out right before class.”

Or: “I wrote this story in about 5 minutes and don’t really care about it.” 

Or: “I had to get something in by the deadline so I hammered out this poem in the john just before class. Ha ha.”

  1. “This poem was hard to understand so I stopped reading it.”


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