When workshopping became a verb, I took a closer look. What is this verb doing? What does it mean to have a story workshopped? As I've written in an earlier blog, some people have nothing good to say about this process. "...a combination of ritual scarring," writes Louis Menand in a June 8 & 15 The New Yorker article.
When I gave a recent lecture to a group of students about what to do with that towering stack of workshop critiques, I said I was going to use the metaphor of workshop as therapy session, perhaps their worst therapy session ever. But then, I confessed, perhaps it isn't a metaphor at all--it's like saying A=A. Workshop is therapy.
But really, I was just kidding around.
Over the years, I've come to understand that workshop is a process that is eventually internalized by students and brought to bear on one's own work. The questions raised in the workshop process model the thinking process that the writer will bring to his or her own work. If a teacher is prescriptive, explaining the problem with the story and telling the student how to fix it, the student, at the end of the course, wouldn't have learned very much. Some students undoubtedly would prefer this approach--just tell me what to do and I'll do it. But the workshop is a process of expanding a student's knowledge base and questioning his or her belief system, refining it, and questioning it again.
Moreover, we are limited to our one perspective, which is defined by our finite experiences, memories, and imagination. It is often the case that someone sees something in workshop that the writer never even thought about--a connection or association is made, opening up the story, inviting something unexpected, something rich, something that inspires the writer to enter his or her story all over again.
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