This is How You Do It: Require a Process Blog


I want to get back to my series of posts about how to do it: concrete ideas about how to change the default setting of the creative writing classroom so that Big Things can be brought to the table.

I want to highlight this post from a former student of mine, creative nonfiction writer Amy Whipple. She talks about her experience in my workshop Spring 2010, a semester in which I tried a variety of things to help my students to move from “story” to “book.”

Idea: require students to keep a “process blog.”

Yep. That's the gang sign for "blog."
As Amy says:

“We kept a class blog where each of us posted our project proposal and charted our progress and our process. (This alone was great.) And then I got to see how it went over to get fifty pages of a classmate’s work in a classroom setting.”

You can read the rest of her post here. And if you love television the way Amy loves television, then you should follow her blog, too.

Thank you, Amy. I look forward to reading your big thing.

“Workshop” to “Writing Group”


I love what Peter Turchi has to say about workshop here. This and Madison Smartt Bell’s introduction to Narrative Design have really informed my thinking about how I teach workshops.

When I’m teaching a workshop in which students are sharing “big things,” I ask them to read Turchi’s essay, especially this part:

The first step in preparing to discuss another writer’s draft is to try to identify the work’s intention. This is much more challenging than it might sound. It’s difficult to truly suspend our own tastes; it’s also difficult to identify with any confidence the intention of a work that isn’t fully realized (especially since the author might not have a clear intention, yet). But we need to try; and we need to be patient in doing that before we start talking about any specific scene or character or line of dialogue or description. (Far too often, workshop discussions are devoted to a few details at the expense of the whole.)

How do we recognize the intention of a work in progress? When students are workshopping stand-alone short stories, my mantra is: The story must speak for itself. But when students are workshopping big things, I think it’s okay (and necessary) for the author to speak on behalf of the manuscript. Not during the workshop itself, which causes much awkwardness, but before class, outside class.

Idea: require students to use the Blackboard learning environment to create a process blog about their big thing. Ask each writer to articulate the larger goals of the project, its structure, the character’s overall arc, the possible chapters to come, where things are going.

Another idea: require students to turn in their pages presented like a book manuscript: cover page with title and contact information, table of contents, epigraph, even maps and photographs, if they wish. I teach them to use the abbreviation “TK,” the printing reference that signifies that additional material will be added at a later date. If they think their book will be comprised of eight stories, but they’ve only written two and a half and the other five are still in their heads, I tell them, yes, it’s okay to give us two and a half stories, to give us placeholder titles, maybe even short synopses of what is “to come.” Basically, they need to teach us how to read their book. We need to know: are we reading stand alone stories, related stories, or a novel?

This approach often shifts the default setting of the class from “workshop” to “writing group.