Well, we had our last fiction workshop of the term on Monday night over pizza at my house. On the one hand, it’s been a long semester and I’m glad it’s almost over. On the other, this was a good group, and I’m sorry to see them go.
As with any small class or seminar, you never know how a workshop is going to jell, what character it will come to have. Monday evening I was keenly aware of how far this group of talented writers in their early 20s have come, especially in the way they talk about fiction. As a group, too, they really created a small community–they’re thoughtful and considerate of each other’s work. They take it seriously. This is a pleasure for me.
Typically, I do a lot of talking early in the semester and lead the discussion with tight control. This is both to get them acclimated to those aspects of stories, mostly structural, that I’m going to focus on throughout the workshop, and also to get them not to address the author of a story directly, but to speak about the “author,” as if we were discussing a published piece or a story by someone outside the group. This in turn creates respect, insulates the tender feelings that all writers have in workshops (certainly I used to have the thinnest of skins), and creates a little distance for more thoughtful comment.
The goal, in other words, is not simply to help young people become better writers, but better readers as well. Most literature classes, after all, focus on what a work means, but my workshops are about how stories work. And that’s a liberating new way of reading for many students.
As the semester progresses, I become quieter, assigning other members of the group to lead discussions on individual stories. On Monday evening I hardly dared open my mouth. I’d become all but superfluous. How marvelous!
So adieu to this fine group. Next year’s will be different. Of that alone I can be certain. In the meantime, I have to get back to fashioning my course for next semester: The Little Magazine in America. Help!