Traditional Writing Workshops and “Stephen King – On Writing”

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The traditional model of teaching creative writing may work for the majority but there will always be exceptions, due to personality, skill level and work ethic differences. I think it’s been so successful over the years primarily because of its simplicity. Get a bunch of writers together in one place to study, review each other’s work and share information, tricks-of-the-trade and experiences, and you’re bound to get interesting and thoughtful feedback and opinions.

I have had both positive and not-so-positive experiences with traditional writing workshops. While I’ve gotten a lot of good out of them, I do not believe they stack up to the “ideal.” Personally, I found it challenging to read and review so many other writers while also focusing on my own writing. In one particular workshop I participated in, students would need to review 120+ pages of text each week. This made it challenging for everyone, I think, to get their own creative juices flowing since we were spending so much time reading and critiquing each other. Also, it became clear rather quickly that not everyone was reading (or thoroughly reading) everyone else’s work. The time and energy involved, added to the fact that everyone has different interests and work ethics, made it tempting for some to simply agree with what someone else in the circle may have said. I think the element of group think in these traditional workshops can be challenging to overcome. For that reason, I believe one-on-one feedback, blind feedback or even online workshops can be more valuable to a writer’s growth because the group think mentality is eliminated and students needn’t worry about what others in the circle say, think or how they react nonverbally. In a nutshell, people tend to be more open and honest when others aren’t watching.

I found King’s book useful. I thought it was interesting, for one, to get an honest sneak peek into the mind of another writer, especially one with King’s level of success. He shared some crazy stories from his childhood (Eula-Beulah, p19-21, will stay with me forever) and also gave unique insight into critical writing elements (i.e., theme, p200, pacing, p220, research, p227). Although the book felt, at times, more like an autobiography than a memoir on craft (King himself made that note on p17), King’s storytelling caused me to realize that I should use my own memories for inspiration, as well.

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