The world is full of creeps, assholes, and sociopaths, and our literary bubble is no exception. Anyone who acts abusively (harassment, bigotry, invective, intimidation, unwanted physical contact) will get one warning, if it's plausibly unintentional. If it keeps up, or is blatantly egregious the first time, they'll be booted from the class with no refund. The instructor is the sole and final arbiter in this and is extremely petty.
All workshop manuscripts, feedback, and discussion are strictly confidential, and you will not share them with anyone outside the class, in any form. If you copy, share, or distribute other students' writing, you might just get asked to leave with no refund.
Every class has people who talk more or less than others, but you should neither loom nor lurk. If you catch yourself speaking more, it's up to you to police yourself and make room—no crosstalk or interruption. Conversely, even though writers are notoriously judgy lurks, you need to contribute feedback just like you'll be receiving it. The instructor may politely ask you to speak more or less.
We workshop manuscripts, not authors. Do not comment directly on the author, except to point out specific recurring themes or tendencies in their writing. By the same token, don't take feedback personally. Nobody is above critique except my mom.
Is mandatory for both the workshop and seminar. Class will start no later than 5 minutes after the scheduled time. Let me know ASAP about unavoidable absences.
Workshop manuscripts should be 12-point, Times New Roman font, double-spaced, page-numbered, and 25 pages max—no margin monkeyshines. Microsoft Word preferred, PDF and Google Docs acceptable. Excerpts of longer pieces are fine, just indicate it at the beginning, and provide any necessary context / setup.
When and What to workshop
You'll submit two manuscripts for the class, each due on the Friday before your scheduled workshop. Manuscripts should be narrative prose, i.e. fiction or creative nonfiction, and not thinkpieces, reviews, op-eds, etc. No more than one story per manuscript, i.e. don't submit three flash pieces in one manuscript submission.(Multiple stories result in multiple shallow discussions.)
Ideally manuscripts should be at a point where you've worked on it a while, but have hit a wall. If your submit something that's basically finished, we won't have much useful feedback to give, and if it's too rough, then we'll just be telling you what you already know needs fixing.
When you send out your manuscript, don't preface it (e.g. "This is super rough," "This is an homage to JG Ballard"), because that'll bias readers heavily.
How Do I Feedback???
Feedback letters must be 1,000+ words, due on the day of the author's workshop. You'll give a copy to the author, and email one to me for accountability.
Instead of just saying things are "well done" or "need work," try to articulate the desired and actual effects of the manuscript as fully as you can, and make concrete suggestions about how to achieve different effects by altering specific elements. Don't be afraid to make bold suggestions, but do try to orient your critique toward what you think the writer's trying to accomplish.
If you have trouble knowing what to talk about, consider:
- Who are you most interested in, and why?
- Are the central characters well-developed? Are any important
- aspects of characterization absent (e.g. the physical appearance of a character whose homeliness is relevant to the plot)?
- Do any fit into a known stereotype / archetype? Does the story get away with it?
- Are any characters superfluous, or given more attention than necessary?
- How would you describe the characters?
- What did you expect to happen after reading the beginning? Did it satisfyingly upend your expectations?
- Was the ending predictable?
- Did the story answer the plot questions you were curious about?
- If not, does it get away with it? What did you want to know?
- Are any scenes redundant or unnecessary?
- How would you describe the tone / voice of the piece?
- Does it fit the content, or the character it belongs to?
- Are any words, gestures, or rhetorical devices overused?
- Are vernacular and dialects rendered convincingly? (This assumes you know what a convincing dialect would sound like.)
- Does the style remind you of other writers?
- How does it compare to other works in its genre / tradition / lineage (e.g. the campus novel, slipstream, high modernism, paranormal romance, etc.)?
- Does it borrow heavily from any particular author in plot, setting, or style?
- Does it subvert or retread the genre's tropes? Rip-off? Pay homage?
- Do you have reading recommendations from the same genre?
- Are there subjects that need deeper research?
- Can you suggest any relevant resources / contacts / books for the writer to check out?
- What are the story's chief pleasures, and where is it most / least successful at delivering them? (Genuine compliments are always nice—never do false or faint praise.)
- What sort of reader would you guess the story would appeal to? Who does it seem "written for"?
Line Editing Legend
Beyond standard copyediting marks, I use a bunch of expedient shorthand on my line edits. Here's what they mean:
- Underline: I like this
- Squiggly underline: "Meh"
- WC = Word Choice
- MM = Mixed Metaphor
- Awk. = Awkward
- Spec. = Make this more specific
- Int'l = Intentional
- Amb. = Ambiguous