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Responding to Writing in Workshop

All writing is treated as fiction.

No criticism, suggestion, or questions are directed toward the writer in response to first-draft writing.

Do not respond by recalling a memory or story. If the memory is a strong one, then write the story and share it with workshop writers.

Do not address the writer as you, as if the voice of the speaker, the storyteller, the narrator of the writing is the same person as the one workshop reader/writer; instead, say the narrator or name the characters. This is our practice even when the writing is written in the first person, I, even when the writer tells us it is true or autobiographical.

Do not refer to a character as a real person rather than an imagined character, for example a family member, such as the character my mother, is not the writer’s mother, ie. your mother. She is the mother character.

Do not recall all your thoughts and feelings. Limit your response to one or two aspects of the writing that stood out for you. Leave room for others to comment.

Writing that has newly come from the pen of a writer should be listened to with care. New writing is as fragile and raw as a newborn and should be treated as respectfully, as tenderly.

•    Do not make overt or subtle suggestions for change.
•    Do not tell one’s own story, ie. This reminds me when I…
•    Do not question
•    Do not express doubt or disbelief
•    Do not describe writing as derivative, overly familiar or clichéd
•    Do not express dislike or disinterest in narrator, voice or character
•    Do not respond with like unless you point to particular words, phrases, actions, etc.

What is helpful is to listen to the writer, then give back what you remember, what stays with you. Each writer is finding his or her way to voice. It cannot be coerced, and it cannot be given form or shape by anyone else.
                    --adapted from Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others

Suggestions for responding:
  • I remember
  • What is strong
  • What is powerful
  • What is brave
  • What stays with me
  • What moves me
  • What surprises me
Point to specific elements by repeating:
Words
Phrases
Sounds
Sentences
Images
Metaphor

Respond as reader, not a critic:
I understand
I get
I see
I hear
I feel




 
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Manuscript Discussion in Workshop

I. We begin by reading manuscript quietly to ourselves.

II. The manuscript is read aloud – twice. We hear it first in the voice of a reader other than the writer, then we hear the words in the voice of the writer.  Listen to both readers carefully -- note where a reader hesitates, falters, or stumbles.

III. There are three (3) rounds of response and commentary. During first two (2) rounds, the writer does not participate. The writer listens, takes notes, etc.

Round I: We follow wVw practice and respond by telling the writer:
•    what is strong,
•    what moved you,
•    what pulled you into the text and kept you there, etc.

Be careful not to include responses, in this round, that begin with or include:
•    I would like to know more
•    I am curious about
•    I question
•    This reminds me of (either personal stories or references to other writers/writing).

Round II: Now is the time to make inquiries of the writing (see above). This is your time to let writer know:
•    what did not work for you as a reader,
•    what you pushed you out of the text,
•    what left you wanting more and
•    questions about consistency, characters and their motivation, suspense/anticipation, imagery/metaphor, paragraphs/stanzas, sentence structure/line breaks, etc.

Round III: Full group discussion – The writer joins discussion. Writer responds to what has been said about manuscript – answers questions, elaborates on text, or raises questions that may not have been addressed.

IV. Return manuscripts - All manuscripts with notes, comments and signature of reader are returned to the writer.
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