I always feel a tiny bit of “why’d I ever say I’d do this?” when I first start a class. Like many writers, I’m more comfortable with a book than with a room full of people. But it is always worthwhile if the room full of people are writers. And despite the disclaimers of “I’m not a writer,” I hear as a class starts, by the end of the first session, we are all writers. As a writer who is also a teacher, it doesn’t get any better.
The SOAR writing class I taught this spring confirmed for me, again, my faith in two conditions that will help writing break out in a group: time to write and time to share that writing and get audience response. Long ago a colleague taught me, “If you want something from your students, teach it to them.” Following his wisdom, whenever I teach writing, I teach how to respond to a piece of writing in a way that encourages the writer to keep writing and entirely avoids false praise.
Getting a response from a reader is such an important element of the process of crafting a well written piece that I am very specific in how students can respond to each other. I limit feedback to these two observations: “I noticed . . “. and, “I wonder . . . ” Just that, and it works. There’s no room for false praise because the only praise that fits with those two sentence starters is the praise that the writing got my attention in some way, and it got me thinking and wondering.
Another ‘rule’ I impose on my students is that as we’re learning this approach to feedback, the writer doesn’t get to respond verbally. Why do I do that? Because I want the writer to listen to the feedback and process it – mentally and in their writing. I don’t want them to ‘answer’ the feedback, but to use it to consider its value to them and to think about whether to return to the piece and implement something that the feedback made them want to explore.
No doubt I’ll teach other writing classes. For the moment I’m happy to refocus my creative self on my own writing, and I’m back to devoting more time to working on my novel, Lucky.