What Makes a Good Workshop Citizen?

Writers often say that the workshop experience is crucial in developing their art. Creating a vibrant and productive workshop is not a matter of luck — there are things we can all do to be better workshop citizens. For this special edition of Sound Skeins, we asked a selection of the dedicated writers, authors, and instructors in our community what we should all be doing to ensure we become valuable, productive, and responsible members of any writing class. From focusing on writerly intent to embracing contradiction, overcoming shyness to toning down the diva in us, these snippets of advice provide a sound starting point.

 

 

Thanks to: 

Alysia Abbott, Chip Cheek, Nicole Terez Dutton, Jonathan Escoffery, Regie Gibson, Ethan Gilsdorf, Brionne Janae, Sonya Larson, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Ron MacLean, Sara Daniele Rivera, Matthew Salesses, and Dariel Suarez.

 

Find your favorite section quickly with these handy time codes:

What is Workshop Citizenship? 00:00 to 3:07
Stretch Beyond Shyness 3:08 to 4:21
Don’t Over-Talk 4:22 to 5:23
Embrace Contradiction 5:24 to 6:23
Have Conversations 6:23 to 7:12
Don’t be a Diva 7:13 to 8:59
Focus on the Writer’s Intent 9:00 to 12:30
Things to Avoid 12:31 to 16:17
Embrace All Genres & Styles 16:18 to 17:13
The Most Valuable Workshop 17:14 to 20:00
Addressing Race, Culture, & Bias 20:01 to 37:52
Workshop Magic  37:53 to 39:33

 

                        

Highlights:

“By reading other people’s work, you become a better reader of your own ... that’s what I wish people would understand from the start rather than understand at the end.”

—Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich 

 

“Students sometimes don’t realize that one of the best ways to learn how to become a really good writer is to ... read their peers’ work ... that’s when they learn what’s working in this story and what isn’t working ... then they bring that back to their own work ... The more generously you give, you’re giving back to yourself.”

 —Jonathan Escoffery 

 

“Writing is a global phenomenon ... and it’s important to come into it with a certain way of thinking in terms of discovery and not so much of imposing our own experiences into it but rather experiencing something new.”

 —Dariel Suarez

 

“Respecting the intent of the writer, really trying to understand what the purpose of the piece is, and that the purpose might not be the purpose of the piece you would write.”

 —Alysia Abbott

 

 “Move beyond the personal reaction and try to identify what’s happening on the page.”

 —Ethan Gilsdorf

 

“Part of what we’re trying to do when we come together in a group is to sift through, together, what we collectively see and don’t see, and that’s the beauty of a workshop.”

 —Sonya Larson

 

Sound Skeins is an audio bundle of craft inspiration, tips, and writing-related randomness.

Questions or ideas? SoundSkeins@gmail.com

About the Author

Eson Kim serves as the Director of Community and Youth Programs at GrubStreet, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Her stories have appeared in Calyx Journal, Denver Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review, among others. She received a Writing Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and earned the David B. Saunders Award for creative nonfiction. She was also named to the Notable list of Best American Essays. She's appeared on Radio Boston's Summer Reads series and Stories from the Stage (WGBH). She loves any opportunity to talk about books for all ages.

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