I often find myself weighing the degree to which the workshops I lead should concern themselves with things other than the manuscript up for discussion. On the one hand, I believe in a workshop—especially at the undergraduate level—that focuses on writing, and not on what one does with the writing once it’s finished. Put another way, there’s no better element of professionalization than learning to write well.
On the other hand, part of being a writer means giving readings and submitting work for publication, and I’m not doing my students any favors by pretending otherwise, or by withholding information or advice that could benefit them. Beyond that, I would argue that the very process of preparing a manuscript for a public reading or for submission to a journal makes one a better writer. When I know that I’ll be reading my work in front of actual, live human beings, I’m suddenly able to see the work with fresh eyes and less patience. I become a better self-editor. Imprecise words, flabby phrases, and lags in pacing—not to mention typos—announce themselves loudly.
Similarly, when I prepare to submit a piece for publication, I find myself reading it through the eyes of someone who doesn’t already know me and who has no reason—or time—to give me the benefit of the doubt. The piece, in other words, must stand on its own, and it must stand out.
So certainly there’s a pedagogical element to professionalization. Yet I value the workshop as a space that encourages ambition, experimentation, and even failure. That’s how we grow as writers, and much of the work we do in workshop is not meant for public consumption. The writer’s apprenticeship is a long one, and to rush the process—to make one’s work public before it’s ready—does the writer no favors.
I’d love for others to weigh in:
- Does your workshop give a class reading? If so, is it made public?
- Does your workshop involve educating students in the submission process?
- Should students in workshop be encouraged—or even required—to submit their work?
[This post originally appeared on LitBits on 11/3/11]