Handout & Writing Exercise from the Aug 12 Gallup Park Creative Writing Workshop


"Writing Alone & with Others", Pat Schneider

HANDOUT: “We write together—leader as well as participants—in response to a suggestion [exercise, prompt] given by the leader. The leader’s participation in writing and reading brand-new work aloud is absolutely central to this workshop method. If the leader of a group stays safe, there is hierarchy, and the group members’ safety is compromised. When the leader reads aloud, is honest about fear…the members of the group are empowered.

…Writing together is an experience entirely unlike any that I ever had in elementary or high school, in college or graduate school…I don’t know how to express the almost ecstatic experience that rather frequently happens when people write together and affirm one another’s new work. There are so few places in our normal social lives where we are privileged to meet one another so vulnerably—to laugh and cry and laugh again.

Because there is no critique or discussion of first-draft work, we venture out with our words, often prefacing them by disclaimers, but daring to read them anyway, and hearing that they are accepted and respected. When we are funny, we get to hear the reward of our listener’s laughter. Sometimes when we grieve, someone else weeps with us. We never discuss that work, not even to mention it at break over coffee and brownies. It belongs to the writer. But each of us has been heard and affirmed.

…When we write together in a workshop, we do not have time to revise or even read over to ourselves the words that we read aloud. To read under these circumstances is a powerful and sometimes emotional experience, both for the writer and for the listener. Our practice, upon hearing work that has just been written, is to mention ‘what we remember; what stays with us.’ This saves us from too much sweetness and the temptation to dishonest praise…I don’t need someone to tell me [my] writing is good. I need someone to tell me, ‘I see that kid putting the nickel in the jukebox.’

…Traditional teaching of writing has too often emphasized what is wrong. Most of us understand instinctively how to encourage and assist a child to do creative work. If a child brings you a picture of a bird in flight she has just drawn with a blue crayon, and you see that the left wing is hanging awkwardly down the page, but the right wing is soaring, you do not say, ‘By the way, that crooked left wing looks really stupid.’ You say, ‘Oh, look! Look how that right wing is lifted by the air! I can just feel the flying!’ The child looks at the picture, and what does she do? She goes immediately to her crayons and draws the left wing so it, too, soars.”

WRITING EXERCISE: "Cleaning out the Pipes" (from the Martha's Vineyard July 2017 Writing Workshop - Alexander Weinstein)

Free-write for 5 minutes. Write as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation, or even content. You are trying to bypass your inner critic, and one of the best ways to do this is with speed. It takes awhile to get used to this kind of writing, so if you have not done this before, be patient with yourself as you move forward.

Then, after you have written for 5 minutes, have someone call out a word (or find a random word on your own, in a magazine, or the dictionary, etc)--any word will do. Incorporate that word into your writing, continuing to write in the same manner as before. Add a new word every minute, until you have incorporated 5 new words.

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