I’m completing my internship of an upper-division creative writing class this semester. The last two weeks, the class broke into small groups to workshop revised writing; my small group took work home to read and make notes, then assembled with one student (not the author) reading the work out loud as we followed along and made additional notes. The author gets to hear someone else read their work, plus has six readers giving their work a critical eye twice. After the reading, we gave notes, beginning with “pillows” (what’s working and why) before “bricks” (what’s missing, not working). The six students I worked with showed a definite interest in helping each other improve their writing, which is why I wasn’t nervous when they agreed to workshop something I’d written.
This was my first time being workshopped not by peers or instructors or Scrawlers writers, but by my students* – the undergrads who relied on me for notes on their work. We looked at twelve pages of the unfinished YA story I wrote a month ago and I was left pleased. Plenty of “pillows,” but the “bricks” were helpful, answering questions I had about the material, and giving me new ideas. Basically, the best aspects of a solid workshop.
Letting students workshop the instructor’s writing let’s them demonstrate what they’ve learned about workshop.
Having my students workshop instructor’s writing can go in two ways – really well or really… well, not well! I think it went well this time because of how I’d set up the workshop environment. It was about honesty, everyone speaking up face-to-face, and pushing ourselves to help someone improve their writing. If I’d set up a cutthroat environment of figuring out who has the best story or who we don’t like and thus shouldn’t give them de notes, it would have been a different story. They modeled the environment I created and showed not only do they get it, but that it works.
Letting students workshop the instructor’s writing is fun.
There’s something neat about an instructor who puts their own credibility on the line, to say yes, I’m on equal ground with you in terms of trying to improve so please tell me how I can do it. I think most students embrace this as a worthy challenge, not a chance to trash their instructor.
As for the story, these students were its first readers (aside from the fiancée) and the consensus is my story is one worth pursuing. If I continue with it, it’s likely novella length, which is a challenge for me to embrace.
(* Yes, as an intern who is not giving them their final grade, they were not technically my students. Yet I was put in charge of them, set expectations of the workshop and facilitated it, so I’ll use “my” and run with it.)