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. I’ll throw in “creepy late-night texts” and “offering to hang out ostensibly to discuss writing but really as a stealth date” in there as well. If I get a report of blatantly egregious behavior, or persistent creepy behavior, I will believe it, and the offender will be booted from the class with no refund. I’m the sole and final arbiter in this and I’m 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. No subtweeting either, at least for the duration of the class.
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 notorious sideliners, 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. Don’t 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. 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. (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, and if it's too rough, then we'll just be telling you what you already know needs fixing.
Don't preface with unnecessary info (e.g. "This is an homage to JG Ballard"), because that'll bias the reading.
How Do 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.
Don’t just say things are good or bad, try to articulate the desired and actual effects of the manuscript as fully as you can. If you diagnose a problem, try to offer solutions, the more the better. Don't be afraid to make bold suggestions, but do try and feel out what the author’s going for.
If you have trouble coming up with 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? Is it different than you suspect was intended?
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, is that okay? 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 convincingly rendered? (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 Edit Glossary
Beyond standard copyediting marks, I sometimes use shorthand on my line edits:
C = Cliche
Underline: I like this
Squiggly underline: "Meh"
WC = Word Choice
MM = Mixed Metaphor
Awk. = Awkward
Spec. = Make this more specific
Amb. = Ambiguous