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Write Now: Writing Workshops Help On All Levels

Writing is an intense vocation, and writing is crafted by one person. At times, more than one person may collaborate on a piece for publication. The collaboration happens with non-fiction and fiction prose.

For most writers and authors, it’s a one-person show meaning that one person is responsible for his content beginning to end.

And for those writers and authors, they may have workshopped their material. You may have heard the term writers workshop. In school, English Language Arts teachers use a writers workshop to help students become better and responsible writers. For students, the workshop consists of three parts. The first part is where the teacher will discuss and model a topic or skill. The second part is where students may revise or begin new writing projects. This is also a time when the teacher checks a student’s progress and may have a one-on-one session about the student’s writing. The session isn’t about pointing out mistakes, but more how the student’s writing is evolving. The third part is when students can share what they are working on or what they have learned.

Do workshops help beginning, intermediate and advanced writers? I think workshops help writers at all levels.

For example, when writing, beginning and intermediate writers may overuse a certain word or place a preposition at the end of a sentence. In the workshop, the teacher can focus on how to overcome those two hurdles. Finishing a sentence with a preposition is a very common practice, and one will see it in fiction prose, but with scholarly or educational writing, some editors may ask for revised sentences where the preposition is placed somewhere else in the sentence. In scholarly writing, I too, have been guilty of placing a preposition at the end of a sentence. For writers who write like they speak, the preposition placement sounds natural at the end.

These are small things to work on, but the workshop is open to many other topics.

I think workshops help writers overcome their fear of writing or actually committing words to a page whether written or typed. I have asked many students what is their biggest problem with writing and most have said getting words on a page. My interpretation of that scenario is that students have good ideas, but are afraid to write or type them because the words they choose may not be perfect or maybe the students don’t completely understand and adhere to some grammar rules. This is where a teacher needs to demonstrate that struggling is part of the process and no one is perfect.

The teacher needs students to commit words and thoughts to paper, and then help them find their voices with some basic grammar rules. I often would tell my students that I faced the same struggles they face, but I tried to overcome my fear, by getting words to a page. Were my words perfect? “No,” I told them again and again, but I didn’t stop trying to get better. “In fact, I still try to better my writing,” I told one group of students. I was not afraid to show my vulnerability. And it worked to some degree.

The writing process — brainstorming, rough draft, revision, editing and publication — all can be taught in writers workshop. The workshop should be a place where writers are allowed to experiment with different formats and not be judged. I have conducted writing workshops.

In those workshops, I taught my students how the writing process is a recursive process. Writing is a formal communication tool and communicating through writing can be powerful and effective. My students learned that grammar is a resource, not a deficit, and with proper grammar skills, they could make language do what they wanted it to do. In writing workshops, I taught my students how to draw on their own experiences to make new experiences, and showed them how to think critically and creatively.

I have often said, “to show good writing through literature may encourage students to begin writing on their own because they want to write for themselves and not because they are assigned to write for a grade. Great writing becomes great literature.”

For advanced writers, in my opinion, workshops serve a different purpose. Advanced writers already possess the necessary writing skills. The workshops, for advanced writers, are more of a validation process, and a revision session. When workshopping their writing, advanced writers are testing whether or not their work is good enough for publication.

If you are student, you have probably participated in a workshop. If you are an ELA teacher, you have probably conducted a workshop. If you are an adult getting into the writing business, I suggest finding a writers workshop to see if it will benefit you. You won’t know if you like it until you attend one.

It’s that easy.

It’s that hard.

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