Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Progressive Workshop Feedback: Four Rules

The success of any writing workshop depends upon the quality of the feedback.  The way we present this feedback is often just as important as the feedback itself.  Here are four "Rules to Live By" when providing feedback to your peers.

Workshop Peer Review - Four Rules of Progressive Feedback
My Philosophy as a Writer and Teacher
The following rules are meant as a guideline for running a productive workshop which encourages all writers to continue writing.  We don't want anyone to obligated to improve their writing simply because they "have" to - we want everyone to see writing as a rewarding experience.  As with any skill, those who enjoy writing tend to succeed the most over the long term.

If you'd like to learn more about my approach to teaching, you can visit my Philosophy Page on 12Writing.

The Four Rules
Treat All Work as Fiction
The quality of the written work is independent of the writer.  As a male author, I could write the autobiography of my abortion - if I've done my research and come to understand the conflicting emotions that go into an abortion, I may be able to capture that on the page.  If I don't quite succeed, however...

Start with the Positives
What works well in the story?  What are the strengths that stay with you?  In expressing a complex, personal, and extremely emotional story, there will be images that stay with you.  Many stories are written in a style which feels "just right."  You want to let the author know.  This way, he or she knows which habits to continue in his or her writing.  And this will give that author a good place to start when you...

Discuss Ways to Strengthen the Piece
No one has yet written a "perfect" story, poem, or essay.  And that's okay - we each contribute to the general body of literature.  In providing feedback, you want to help the writer see how to do that better.  Rather than say "I thought this part was boring," provide progressive feedback: "I felt this part would be more interesting if you..."  However, bear in mind that your ideas on the meaning and purpose of the work won't always match what the author intended.  This is why we must...

Include the Author
If something is unclear, feel free to ask the author to clarify.  Most workshop models require the author to remain a silent observer during the critique, but this means that many discussions of a given work veer far off topic.  As workshop participants, we want to help the author succeed as a writer, and we can't do that if we simply impose our own expectations on the author's work.  We want to make sure that we're providing the feedback that best fits the author's ideal for the story, poem, or essay - or, at the very least, help the author through the process of deciding what that ideal should be.

Workshop Peer Review - Four Rules of Progressive Feedback

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