Beyond the Writers' Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction


An innovative new approach to teaching and writing creative nonfiction from veteran teacher and critically acclaimed author Carol Bly.

Teachers and writers everywhere are facing the limits imposed by the prevailing models of teaching: community or MFA “workshops” or, at the high-school level, “peer review.” In Beyond the Writers' Workshop Carol Bly presents an alternative. She believes that workshopping’s tendency to engage in wry scorn and pay exaggerated attention to technical...

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Beyond the Writers' Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction

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An innovative new approach to teaching and writing creative nonfiction from veteran teacher and critically acclaimed author Carol Bly.

Teachers and writers everywhere are facing the limits imposed by the prevailing models of teaching: community or MFA “workshops” or, at the high-school level, “peer review.” In Beyond the Writers' Workshop Carol Bly presents an alternative. She believes that workshopping’s tendency to engage in wry scorn and pay exaggerated attention to technical details, causes apprentice writers, consciously or unconsciously, to modify their most passionate work.

Inspired by a philosophy of individuality and moral rigor, Bly combines ideas and techniques from social work, psychotherapy, and neuroscience with the traditional teaching of fresh metaphor, salient dialogue, lively pace, and analysis of other literary work in her pioneering new approach. She also includes exercises and examples in an extensive practical appendix.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Bly provides excellent discussions…of the writer’s craft, but she also delves deeper…. She excels at coaxing writers…toward a larger vision of life and literature.”–The Plain Dealer on The Passionate, Accurate Story
Library Journal
Prolific author Bly (The Passionate, Accurate Story; My Lord Bag of Rice), who teaches ethics-in-literature at the University of Minnesota, has written a useful analysis of the existing archetypes of creative writing programs. Bly looks at the many built-in problems of writing workshops whose dogmatic emphasis of techniques and neglect of ideas often prevent writers from creating their most passionate work. But Bly goes further than merely pinpointing the problems of the existing creative writing programs: this revealing study is replete with constructive advice on how to write meaningful nonfiction by incorporating techniques from psychotherapy and neuroscience. Bly also advocates giving school students, the poor, and the have-nots of society a forum through writing that will let them express what moves them. She ends the book with 15 writing exercises, usage sheets, and sample writing class agendas. Most suitable for writing teachers looking for something new to spark their students, this manual is recommended for all academic and large public libraries. Lisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385499194
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/17/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 633,135
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction xvii
Chapter 1 Taking on Three Demanding Situations First 3
Cultural Deprivation 4
The New, Nontraditional Mission of Present-Day Writers 9
Eight Elements of Bad or Scanty Teaching of Creative Writing 15
Chapter 2 A Fundamental Mistake in How We Learn to Write: Skipping the Long Middle Stage of Writing 33
The Three Stages of Writing a Manuscript 37
Chapter 3 Using Empathic Questioning to Deepen Your First Draft 46
Empathic Inquiry 48
Some Final Thoughts 58
Chapter 4 How Stage-Development Philosophy Serves Writers 59
A Basic Overview of Stage-Development Theory 59
Assumptions of Stage-Development Theory 65
How Two Authors Offer Us Stage Philosophies That Are Especially Pertinent to Writers 70
Chapter 5 We Have Pushed Off from the Animal Kingdom for Good: Good News for Writers from Neuroscientists 76
Reentry and Literary Endeavor 82
Becoming a Generalist 92
The Love of Thinking 94
Chapter 6 Literary Fixes 100
Driving the Exposition Inward 101
Raising the Tone 109
Changing Statement to Theater (Showing, not Telling) 111
Combating Lying and Cowardice 113
Removing Self-References 116
Pushing Off from Mindless Male Realism and Mindless Female Realism 119
Checking for the Skinflint Syndrome and Enhancing Your Manuscript as a Gift to the Reader 121
Asking, for a Last Time, What Is Still Missing from This Manuscript? 122
Small Language Fixes That Help Remove Humbug 122
Starting Sentences with Dependent Clauses 126
Getting Rid of We, Everybody, and All 127
Chapter 7 Seven General Issues in Teaching Creative Writing 129
Writing Literature Can Be Taught 129
Protecting Student Writers from the U.S.A. Junk Culture 133
Curing Writers of the Bad Habit of Perseverating 139
Convincing Writers that Surprise Is the Inevitable, Eternal Principle of Literature 140
Practicing Professional Reticence 142
Being Aware of Bullying 143
Making the Classroom One of the Great Places on Earth 145
Chapter 8 Teaching Elementary School Children to Write 148
Ways to Use the Appendix When Working with Children 148
No Children's Writing Should Ever Be Subjected to Peer Review 155
Validating the Serious as Well as the Fun-Loving Spirits of Children 157
Offering Some Comment for Every Piece of Creative Writing a Child Does 160
Giving a Child Two Opportunities to Answer a Question 161
Teaching Children as Well as Ourselves the Psychological Skills that Protect a Person's Personality from Group Bullying or from Unfair Pressure by People in Authority 162
Asking Children to Memorize One Hundred Stories by the Age of Eighteen 163
Chapter 9 Helping People in Middle and High School Learn to Write 171
Adolescents and Monoculture 171
Using the Appendix of This Book with Adolescent People 173
No Peer Reviewing of Manuscripts 178
No Teaching of Literary Techniques 179
No Asking for Rough Drafts of Creative Writing 182
Never Failing to Comment on the Core Content of Students' Papers 183
Teaching Adolescent Writers to Continue Memorizing Stories, if They Started in Elementary School, and to Add Poems 184
An Ethics Code for Teachers of Adolescents 184
Chapter 10 Helping College Students and M.F.A. Candidates to Write 185
Leaving Behind the Natural but Useless Attitudes Common to Any Enclave of Creative Writers 185
Ways to Help College- and Graduate-Level Writers Experience a Literary Change of Heart 206
Chapter 11 Teaching at Writers' Conferences, Community Retreats, and Summer Short Courses 217
What These Courses Are, and the Burgeoning Population Who Use Them 217
Three Kinds of Populations We Don't Serve Well Enough So Far 222
Chapter 12 Some Issues of Aesthetics and Ethics of Writing Literature 235
Some Psychological Dynamics of Aesthetics and Ethics 235
Distinguishing Hack Work from Literary Artifice 246
Normalized Indifference Is Our Comfortable Stance on Any Subject until Something Jars Us 247
How the Old, Familiar Dynamic Called Pain Avoidance Affects Creative Nonfiction 254
Falsifying What Could Otherwise Be Interesting Psychological Evidence about Homo Sapiens in One or Another Setting 261
Hatred of Literature by Those Left Out of It and Sometimes by Those of Us Who Participate in It 267
A Psychological Tool for Ethically Minded Writers 272
Writing Creative Nonfiction for the 400,000 274
Appendix I. Fifteen Writing Exercises 279
Four Exercises about Background or Place
1. Writing without Cliches about a Beautiful Place 281
2. Ugly Place, Good Event: Ugly Event, Good Place 283
3. Pathetically Shallow Use of Places Once Full of Serious Enterprise 284
4. Paying Respectful Attention to Background Settings 286
Easy Exercises
5. Good and Terrible Qualities in Human Nature--An Exercise for People over the Age of Fourteen 288
6. Ignatow Poem Exercise 289
7. A Catty Vignette 292
8. An Essay Pot--A Group Talking Exercise 295
9. Writing about Work 297
Elegant Exercises
10. Attending to Other--Specifically Attending to Relatives, Nonhuman Creatures, or Plants 301
11. Increasing One's Affection for Utterly Ordinary People 303
12. A Writing Exercise for Extroverts 306
13. An Irritating Person Exercise 309
14. A Nearly Impossible Writing Exercise 311
15. The Andover Format: Writing Your Life at Two Levels--One the Usual Sort of Memoir, and the Other Secret and Profound 315
Appendix II. Usage Sheets 322
Appendix III. Abbreviations and Notes for Referencing Margin Comment on Students' Papers 328
Appendix IV. Formats and Strategies 330
A Format for Writing an Essay 329
The Vertical-Line Way of Taking Notes 331
Analyzing a Literary Work of Art 332
Appendix V. A List of Useful Sentences for Writers in a Tight Spot 335
Appendix VI. Two Examples of Class Agendas for M.F.A. Students 340
Appendix VII. The Robertson-Bly Ethics Code for Teaching Writing to Middle and High School Students 349
Endnotes 355
A Reading List 361
Index 363
Permissions Acknowledgments 373
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