Oct 25, 2006, 2:35 AM
Post #174 of 235
Hey Clench, others...
Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories
[In reply to]
I've taken six workshops, four fiction (two with the same teacher), two poetry, at two different schools. The format was always the same, just a wee bit different than what WindiCiti describes: the author sits quietly, then asks for clarifications, goes home with written comments from the students, in a sort of letter format (Dear Bobby, here's where I thought your story sucked...) prepared before we had a chance to influence one another in class. The main difference I can tell is that during the critique, our teachers sort of commented on every student remark, agreeing or disagreeing, offering qualifications. I felt this helped us become better critiquers, just seeing how the teacher approached things. I would hate to see this disappear at the graduate level.
That said, it was hard to squeeze anything of value from these undergrad workshops. Not that there weren't good writers...but too often, when you did find serious, committed students, their comments were better suited for a lit class--showing you they understood your story, the symbolism, whatever, not offering advice on how you could improve it. That or their expectations were so low that when someone turned in a flawed, but competent story, the class was overwowed and just praised it (which is great, don't get me wrong, but not helpful). The good writers, who obviously read for pleasure, who knew how to critique a story, were often too shy to speak up; you had to say, during the little author question time, Look, I've read your stories, they're great, I know you have an opinion--what is it?!?! Tell me, please!)
The teachers seemed to make or break the class, and it was their insight you had to fight for. And there's problem #2. Rather than throwing up their hands and thanking Jeebus they got these gigs without published books, dedicating even the standard amount of time to student work, most treated their paltry commitments as an annoyance. A couple seemed to read our stories right before class. The comments they'd give were superficial, unhelpful, dealt largely with theme, no line edits or style help whatsoever. No writing advice. Again, too much like an English class, except for the student dedication part. The stories they told in class were so obviously unfelt and rehearsed, we'd find ourselves saying after workshop, Let's see, he went to MFA Program X, was taught by Teacher Y, so maybe that was Robert Olen Butler's tale we just heard?
So I guess in grad school I'm just hoping for more teacher involvement in class. And by involvement, I don't necessarily mean talking more than students, more just being prepared, mentally present, and somewhat helpful and unambiguous in their opinions and advice. I just assumed that at the graduate level, with such a low acceptance rate, the students do know how to be constuctive in class. I mean, they didn't just spontaneously become good writers--I'm guessing they read a lot, notice a lot, and can apply that in class. There's a list of maybe ten stock things, in all those creative writing instruction books. I'm guessing they know these things, and more importantly, know when to mention them in class.
What worries me, besides hearing WindiCiti's story, is my talks with a couple of other folks from, I dunno, top fifteen programs. They were both poetry folks, but one even dropped out because his teacher--one of my favorite poets--didn't teach. At all. Read the poems for the first time in class. Smoked a cigarette while students made comments.
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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Oct 25, 2006, 2:40 AM)