The Concordia WorkshopCreative Writing (MFA)

Workshop Q&A

Q: With the online format, will students still get workshopped?

A: Definitely. In fact, students will take five workshop classes. The AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) states that the workshop is the heart of creative writing curriculum. We couldn’t agree more.

Q: Is it intimidating to get workshopped?

A: If a workshop is run properly, it should an affirming yet helpful experience. The best way to run a workshop, and the model we will use at Concordia, is to answer the following three questions: 1) What is the story about? 2) What are the strengths of the story? 3) What should the writer consider as they approach revision?

When a workshop isn’t run properly, it can become a search and destroy mission. This is not helpful for the writer. In fact, it can be a hurtful experience.

While we believe constructive feedback is critical for all writers, a person has to earn the right to give constructive feedback. First, this is done by taking time to respect the work. A writer deserves to know that someone took the time to carefully read their work from both a factual and thematic level.

After this is done, the student will then will note what’s working about the piece. It’s important for the writer to know what they are doing correctly so they can keep on doing it. It’s also important for their ego that they get that validation. Both of these are compelling reasons to give affirmations.

The final step, then, is to give constructive feedback. At this point, writers are grateful and not defensive because the reader has taken the time to respect their piece.

This is a long way of saying that the Concordia workshop experience will be not be intimidating. In fact, it will be helpful and affirming.

Q: Why is the workshop experience so important?

A: Obviously, students enroll in an MFA program because they have a passion for writing. What workshop gives students is accountability. You have to write and write a lot. It stands to reason that the more you write, the better you get.

It’s also super important for writers to get feedback from other writers who are serious about the craft of writing. Without the structure of a workshop experience, this is difficult to get. Our partners and family members may love us, but often their feedback is limited to a heartfelt, but not very helpful, compliment. And sometimes, they get freaked out!

In the workshop experience, we read the relevant pieces differently than a casual reader. Writing is a craft, and the feedback we give will based on the craft. We will discuss the elements of creative writing and how the writer is handling them: point of view, character development, theme, setting, dialogue, imagery, etc.

So yes, the workshop experience makes us a better writer, but it also makes us a better reader. This in turns makes us a better writer. A critical component in becoming a successful writer is learning how to become a successful reader.

Q: If it’s online, does this mean we will meet on Skype?

A: It does not. This program is completely asynchronous.

There are, of course, practical reasons for this: Not everyone lives in the same time zone; not everyone works the same shift; some people have small children that require too much attention; some may find the idea of a video chat off-putting; some may have technological problems.

But even more importantly, there are pedagogical reasons. Certainly, an in-person workshop can be a meaningful experience. For those wanting such a workshop, they might prefer the low-residency or full-time model for pursuing their MFA.

The online MFA format would make a mistake if it tried to duplicate through SKYPE what an in-person workshop could offer. There’s no way this could be done as well.

This does not mean the online workshop experience is inferior. In fact, it has its own strengths. It, for example, provides the student with a lot more feedback than do the other models.

The online MFA workshop demands more of its students with respect to evaluations, which in turn gives each student writer better feedback. As a professor who has led many in-person workshops, there are always students who don’t spend sufficient time with the relevant story before coming to class. Sometimes, they have a lot to say even if what they say is uninformed.

Conversely, some students do, in fact, read the story closely, but they are quiet, and consequently offer little by way of discussion. This, obviously, does not help the writer.

The lengthy workshop evaluations each student must write ensures that every student will 1) read the story closely, and 2) that each student gives plenty of informed feedback.

And, of course, students will be reading each other’s evaluations and this will generate even more discussion.

In short, the real strength of this medium is the quality and length of the feedback each student will receive.

Q: Who will lead the workshops?

A:  Each workshop will be led by a published author (as in, each author will have at least one book published). Ideally, each student will have the opportunity to work with five different authors by the time they leave. Obviously, there are scheduling issues that could affect this to some degree.