Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writing Workshop is for all SNL students – from talented writers about to graduate to struggling writers just starting at SNL


by
Rita Leganski

Writing Workshop isn’t always about remediation. In my spring 2010 class, I had a student who was completing her degree with Creative Writing as a Focus area, and who wished to concentrate on her advanced project, a series of short stories. She was a talented writer, but had not taken any formal writing courses. She had completed two stories prior to the start of the quarter, which we used as her writing samples, and I centered my instruction on various literary techniques. Class instruction consisted of discussion of readings and exercises in the following texts:  The Elements of Style (Strunk & White); Sin and Syntax (Constance Hale); and, What If? (Bernays and Painter).

We workshopped those first two pieces in terms of point of view, connotation, abstract vs. concrete, structure, and style. She then made several revisions and applied what she’d learned in the writing of two new stories. Of particular note was her application of ethos and pathos as well as employment of a motif that joined all of the stories together.

This student’s workshopping efforts culminated in the production of four different short stories that showed how the lives of the various protagonists had been affected by the same event. Collectively, the stories comprised an opus titled "Olam Ha-Ba: A Story in Four Voices," for which she won an Award for Excellence and was selected to speak at Naperville’s Scholars’ Night.

I had another student who was at the beginning of her academic career. She had not decided on a Focus area yet, but felt it would be some facet of business. Prior to Writing Workshop, she had taken Critical Thinking and we used her final paper from that class to practice revising. It was clear that she was quite accomplished at critical thinking, transition, proving a thesis statement, organization, and correct grammar; however, it was also clear that she showed an inclination toward clutter, as seen in sentences that were sometimes 40+ words long and so heavy that they lacked meaning.

Classroom instruction included using the prompt: “What am I trying to say?” and discussing the Hacker online exercises, various handouts regarding clutter, and a careful examination of an example of one of E.B. White’s revision process. Concision became our goal. We concentrated on identifying redundancy and metadiscourse, and by the end of the course, she was producing clear, concise, coherent sentences. The following examples show how she revised the same paragraph from draft 1 to draft 3. Draft 1 includes a 43-word sentence.

Draft 1:
"This essay ties to our course segment on morality. It intends to send the reader into thought about recognizing these tragic events of human rights should they occur in the future under different cuircumstances, and have an understanding of the challenges that exist which may tempt us to turn a blind eye. We will never know if there could have been any intervention that would have been successful is [sic] saving the majority of the six-million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. And we don t know for sure if we can prevent a like event in the future. But we can commit to being more observant in general, and acknowledge some retrospective learnings, as well as potential missed opportunities of the past..."

Draft 2:
"This essay ties to our course segment on morality. Individually and within society as a whole, we should have learned enough to recognize and intervene if another Holocaust were to occur. By reviweing the past and noting the direction of our future, we can hopefully understand the challenges that may tempt us to turn a blind eye."

Draft 3:
"We should have learned enough not only to recognize but to inervene if another Holocaust were to occur. By reviewing the past and noting the direction of our future, we can identify the challenges that may tempt us to turn a blind eye."

It is of particular note that she applied the listing and freewriting techniques to refining her choice of a Focus area, and has gone from Communications to Telecommunications in the process. 

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