Tag: Workshop

Lesley University: MFA Residency (January 4-12, 2013)

LUAh, residency. That blissful nine-day span where nothing matters but literature and writing. I love it and am freshly home from my second residency in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Lesley University. While this residency had its obvious differences from the first one back in June, it was still exactly what I needed–a huge push to get back into a writing routine.

Here’s a quick look at the seminars I went to:

  • The Past Coming to You Live (A seminar on historical fiction in young adult literature.)
  • In Cold Print: The Cross Pollination of Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Poetry
  • Indoor/Outdoor Writing: The Inspiration and Imperative of Place
  • An Afternoon With Mark Siegel, Author/Illustrator, Director of First Second Books
  • Chiarscuro: Darkness and Light in Children’s Literature
  • The Art of Juxtaposition
  • What’s So Funny? Exploring Appropriate Humor for Children for and Young Adults
  • In the Smithy of My Soul: When Writing Takes on the World
  • A Place Like No Other: Crafting a Compelling Setting That Readers Will Remember

In addition to these, I also had nine hours of workshops to attend.

Overall, this residency was another great learning experience. I made some great new friends and learned so much more than I thought I would. I will admit that the seminars weren’t as exciting as the first time around, but I still wouldn’t trade them for anything else. The faculty at Lesley is amazing and my work is better because of all of them. My new mentor, David Elliott, is a great guy. I have a great feeling about this semester with him.

And so it begins.

Happy Writing,


Lesley University: MFA Residency (June 22-30, 2012)

This post is a bit late, but I’ve had so much going on since returning home, and this is better late than never, right? Right.

As most of you know, I was accepted into the Writing for Young People track at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts back in February. The program is a low-residency one, so twice a year, we all meet on the campus for ten days of residency–intense, writing-focused days full of seminars, workshops, and readings. My first one as a new student took place last month, from the 22nd to the 30th.

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: 10/20/2010

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & blimpy.

Welcome back for another installment of “WiP Wednesday” here at A Novel Pursuit! Today’s post will be a bit random, as I’ve has a busy couple of weeks (and I missed posting this last week). So, without further ado, here we go!

  • Short Story Workshop #1: My first short story workshop went well. The story I used (Midnight Marquee) apparently runs in the fantasy realm. I’ve never written fantasy before, so I found this interesting. I will admit, though, that I didn’t walk away from this workshop as excited as I have the others. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t care about this story as much, or because I’m not interested in revising it (which I have to do as part of my final portfolio for the class). For now, I’m leaving sit for a while. I’ll tackle it again in November sometime.
  • Writing Contests, Etc: As I mentioned in an entry yesterday, I entered a 10,000-word excerpt from my novel “Forward Together” in the William Richey Fiction Contest sponsored by Yemassee Journal at the University of South Carolina. If you’re interested in learning more about it, read the linked entry for details and a link to the website. NaNoWriMo is coming up quickly. This is my first year of participation and I’m really looking forward to it. I wrote a post about this last week, and you can read about my plans for it here.
  • Current Novel Progress: Sadly, I’ve done nothing but a little bit of editing. I’ve been so busy with things for my current classes that I’ve barely had time to sleep, let alone work on my novel. I’m still mulling over chapter seven and whether I want to trash it or not. I know it needs major work, but I’m still struggling with how I can make it stronger. I need to read through all of what I have so far, as I noticed a few days ago that there are a few items that don’t add up. They’re little things, thankfully, but I’d like to get them fixed as soon as possible.
  • Short Story Workshop #2: This is coming up quickly as well. I have two weeks to come up with a new story (or revise an older piece from class). I’ve got a few ideas, and since I’ll be spending a few days in a hotel room in Spokane next week, I’m hoping to get something down on paper then. I’d like to have it started before then, actually, so we’ll see how things go.
  • Author Panel: Tonight I have an author panel to attend at Mt. Mary. It’s required by my advisor/short story workshop professor as part of class. These panels always tend to be pretty interesting, so I’m looking forward to this one.

That pretty much encompasses my last two weeks. My prioritization skills have gotten a bit better, and I even managed to get my entire journalism midterm written in one day (and a week early). Next Tuesday, I’m going to Washington for a week, but no worries—I’ll have my laptop and will still be posting blog entries!

Happy writing!

Afraid of Workshop? Read On…

One of my current professors (who is also my graduate advisor) has been handing this out in every one of her classes. I’ve had her for three now and always keep at least one copy in my notebooks. It’s an essay by Jeremiah Chamberlain titled “Workshop is Not for You” and is an intriguing read from The Glimmer Train Press, which is why I’m sharing it here. I’d love to hear your comments on it!

“Workshop is Not for You” by Jeremiah Chamberlain

Whenever my students complain about workshop, their gripes invariably have to do with issues os reciprocity. Or, rather, lack thereof—they have spent a great deal of time carefully reading and writing thoughtful commets on the work of their peers, only to receive the vaguest feedback in return. They are angry because they feel that workshop is a social contract. Specifically, one predicated on The Golden Rule: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do To You. They’ve spent months “putting in their time” writing critiques and commentary with the understanding that the “payoff” for this diligence would be receiving the same level of attention to and suggestions for their work. Sometimes they are so angry about this violation of community trust that they can barely resist naming names. And even if they are mature enough to look past the issues of betrayal and fairness, there is still the practical matter of lacking direction for their revisions. So they come to me and seek retribution. Justice.

Needless to say, they aren’t pleased when I tell them it doesn’t matter. “Then what’s the point?” they ask. To them, this is the whole bargain—you read someone else’s work so they’ll read yours.

“The point of workshop is to make you a better writer.”

“What’s what I mean,” they reply. (They think I’ve misunderstood them.) “How am I supposed to get better if I don’t know what’s wrong with my writing?”

“You become a strong writer by writing critiques, not reading them,” I say. Being forced to analyze the effectiveness of other writers’ stories and to then provide them with clear, concise, specific suggestions for improvement will do more to develop a writer’s craft than almost anything else. Through this process writers develop a stronger objectivity about their own work, sharpen their critical thinking skills, and hone their language. A writer can’t always recognize flat dialogue or abrupt scenes or uneven pacing in her own work, but she can sure as hell see it in someone else’s. And the more adept she becomes at identifying it elsewhere, the more easily that skill becomes adapted to her own writing—it becomes second nature.

At this point in the conversation, most students will begrudgingly admit that commenting on the work of others has benefits for their own writing. But they will still grumble that writing critiques feels like busywork, that the same task could be accomplished by reading the work of their peers and then simply discussing it in the open forum of the class (after all, part of their complaint—whether voiced or not—has to do with the amount of time they spent on the other person’s writing). What I try to explain, however, is that the effort required to articulate why and how the components of a story are working will not only force them to think more deeply about their understanding of the story’s central concerns, but might also challenge their initial reading of the piece. This takes time.

Now, I know it’s not much of a consolation to tell ourselves “They’re only hurting themselves” when we don’t receive the thoughtful feedback we’d hoped for on our work. Nor am I arguing that constructive criticism isn’t helpful; there are real benefits to having our stories read closely by our peers. After all, simply understanding the physics of force, inertia, and angle of impact that govern the game of pool doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be able to sink the ball when I lean over the felt with my cue; it takes years of practice before these skills become engrained, and even then it still takes a mixture of focus, concentration, and luck to pull off a difficult bank shot. So having someone who can comment on our form, our follow-through, even our choice of shots as we learn can be tremendously helpful and instructive.

But at the same time, by mistakenly believing that the most beneficial aspect of the workshop experience in terms of our artistic development is what takes places when it’s “our day” to have our writing critiqued, we do ourselves—and our work— an enormous disservice. Understanding, instead, that one of the best opportunities for personal growth as an author comes from the sustained, close reading and articulate analysis of someone else’s writing will have the effect of shifting the workshop model from one of social contracts, fairness, and duty to that of true learning and mutual respect. More importantly, we might comes to realize that the most selfish thing we can do for our own work is to be altruistic. Perhaps that’s the point.

[Jeremiah Chamberlain lives in Ann Arbor, where he teaches at the University of Michigan. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times Book Review, Poets & Writers, The Michigan Quarterly Review, and Fiction Writers Review, as well as online exclusives for Granta and The Virginia Quarterly Review. His short fiction is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize Special Mention, and has been twice nominated for Best New American Voices. He is also the associate editor of Fiction Writers Review.]

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: 9/29/2010

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & blimpy.

Welcome back for another installment of the weekly theme I like to call “WIP Wednesday,” in which I report on the general progress of my own writing. I invite you to adopt this theme on your own blog or if you feel so inclined, share your own progress in the comments. Please bear with me over the next couple of weeks as I find an appropriate structure for these posts.

What I’m Doing:

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me. Workshop is beginning to get into full swing over at MMC. I’ve got about a week to decide what piece I’d like to use for my first workshop date. I’m deciding between two, which I’ll explain a bit more in the following section. So, thus far in the semester, I’ve written three short story pieces. I’d like to rework all of them, but we’ll see what time allows.

Where I’m At:

As I mentioned, my first workshop date is approaching quickly (I have to send my first piece out to my classmates next week). I’ve written three pieces for the class thus far and am deciding between two for this first workshop date. Both of them are currently untitled, so I’ll offer a brief description of each.

  • “Short Story POV”: This piece was written from an earlier piece in which I had to write about a Saturday morning. This piece is that same Saturday morning, written through the point of view of the bus driver in the first piece. The first draft turned out much better than I had anticipated, and although I’d like to use it for workshop, I’m not sure how to revise it.
  • “Untitled”: I wrote this very early (3:42 a.m.) the other morning while my upstairs neighbor was keeping me awake. It’s different from what I usually write and is only about a page and a half long. The only word I can think of to describe it is “different.”

I’ll post both of these pieces over the next couple of days, on the Creative Writing page and in their own entries. I think, because of the lack of time, I may use the second piece for the first workshop. We’ll see, though. It’s always a tough decision.