USC professors’ tips for creative writing workshops

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

The core class of most creative writing programs is the workshop, in which classmates sit around a table, read one another’s work and provide focused discussion and critique. These classes provide a real opportunity for a writer to see how his or her work is being read, and to dig into the nitty-gritty details of the craft of writing.

But as anyone who’s ever been in a workshop knows, they can also go horribly wrong.


The professors in USC’s masters of professional writing program have provided their tips for what makes a good workshop experience. Here’s a sampling:

Program director Brighde Mullins: The workshop is composed of other writers, who are an ideal audience of passionate, sympathetic readers. The act of reading the text and responding to it should increase the possibilities of the text — not reduce them. Yeats writes that “Everything that is merely personal soon rots — unless it is packed in ice or salt.” The ice and the salt are elements of craft, of technique — the images, the cadences, the shape. Madelyn Cain: It is each writer’s responsibility to offer insights into what they read, to neither remain silent nor to offer bland approval. We are here to excite the writer’s imagination with new ideas as well as support the writer on his or her creative journey. Offering our reactions to work can be a stimulating and creative experience for both the critic and the writer. MG Lord: In a workshop, fellow writers can identify weaknesses in a story, often without reducing its writer to suicidal mush. Yet such civility is not always beneficial. In my experience, being reduced to mush provided a strong incentive not to repeat mistakes.

Read the rest of the faculty’s workshop advice here.

RELATED: Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers

-- Carolyn Kellogg