“Sooner or later, it comes down to you and the paper.”

So, here’s how I’m going to do this: write about a panel I went to, with brief impressions and takeaways.

My first Friday ReaderCon panel was “What Writing Workshops Do and Don’t Offer” with Geoff Ryman, Barry Longyear, Kenneth Schneyer, Eileen Gunn, Leah Bobet, and Michael J. DeLuca (who I seem to have cut out of the picture–sorry).

The panel compared and contrasted different Milford-style workshops (Clarion, Odyssey, et al.), talked about some alternatives (Online Writing Workshop), and discussed which sorts of folks probably would or would not benefit from the Milford model.

What I learned that day (directly or indirectly):

  • I probably really do need a regular Milford-model ass-whipping for my writing to improve.
  • A better sense of some things I’d already kinda/sorta knew, namely the take-home benefits of a critique that go beyond “how to fix this story.”
  • My main take-away was a quote from Mr. Longyear (who confessed that although he’s taught at workshops which use the Milford model, the model itself probably wouldn’t have worked for him starting out) said, “Sooner or later, it comes down to you and the paper.”  Amen.

For the interested, here are my panel notes. 

I make no guarantees that these will make sense.  I make no guarantees against my faulty memory, sketchy hearing, or any kind of telepathic or machine-based manipulation of/interference with my senses.  Anything I might’ve gotten wrong is purely unintentional.

“What Writing Workshops Do & Don’t Offer”
Ryman, Longyear, Schneyer, Gunn, Bobet, DeLuca

attended clarion ’09 (mod)

his exp: no roundtable; free-form discussions. real winner = authority of convener.

THE WRITE STUFF (“everythin except disc & practice”).
Odyssey–“they act like adults.”
Other workshops–crit not constructive. “i think you’re a bitch!” ppl quit.
Felt he could not start out w/Milford method

1st experiences “disastrous.”
Clarion, silver lake, eugene,
“i am not a workshop junkie”

support staff for OWW
+ “very different” model than Milford
+ needed something you can do “at 3 a.m. in your underwear”

weightless, small beer, LCRW
exp: ego, not a lot of constructive crit., professor always came out on top
Writeshop in Cols, OH
Odyssey/neverending odyssey
rigidity! vs. “touchy-feely method”


+ circle
+ w/s 2-3 stories day (at workshops); 1 hr/story
+ [house rules] re: time, etc.
+ try to crit STORY not STORYTELLER
++ like vs. not like and WHY
+ e.g. clarion–you learn who you want to listen to and who you don’t
+ you tend to see something that *you* do
+ Professional Level:

GR re: instructors
+ stops things from going off rails
+ class might have “wrong end of the stick”
+ one-on-one if someone’s having trouble processing
+ pedogogical research: you *learn* through *critique*
+ value is NOT so much in the feedback
+ value is doing reading to best of your abililty to find out WHY THEY WORK
+ almost the main point of the workshop: READING!!!
+ students who are wrong…
++ can’t take criticism
++ people who don’t care what’s being said
+ terrifying to have people read your 2nd draft, if that.

ES: act of reading/critting 100+ stories => gives you some internal voices on what doesn’t work.

GR: worst thing for a writer is to take an english degree (“10 years to get over it.”

LB: disagreed–her exp: different kind of critical reading. Changes process. Thinking like a “Critic” = learning how car engines are made so you can make your own

ES: sense of community, trust, loyalty

Different than Milford

+One leader the whole six-weeks w/1 guest lecturer vs. clarion (1/week)
+ “further degree of rigiditiy
+ 1 wk on plot, 1 on character, etc.
+ probs(?) w/having 6 instructors who might disagree

+ “bill of particulars” on what you can/can’t start picking at

ES: odyssey pre-screens re: ability to take critique

EG: @clarion west–“never done creating a workshop” (people change).

+ who’s reading/who’s accepting students?
++ more people = more complicated = more MSs
+ accept 17 students; get 100 MSs
+ different people reading in different years
+ diverse group of people
+ [exogamous]??
+ “They’re not all adults.”
+ Milford = “subversive ways of doing things”

+ more “long term affair” unlike clarion/odyssey
++ can drop in and out
++ some have long-term process of learning
+ P2P!
+ “self-socializes”
+ EG: “false dichotomy”?
++ LB: not really

+ Codex, Cambridge SF workshop, online group w/clarion buddies–varying degrees of participation
+ more crits = more voices in your head!

+ students love online crit along w/1 F2F w/instructor

LB: OWW “runs on reputational economy”–just like the field

ES: re: chip delaney’s book on “the workshop addict”
+ ES’s age
+ shows up, well spoken, good critiques
+ TAKES SAME STORY to workshop after workshop, year after years
+ building up a “resume” of comments
+ GR: not at clarion
+ EG: group doesn’t reward that kind of behavior. CL & CL-W different re: amount of hand-holding done


+ Odyssey grad: discerning criticism
++ BL: “sooner or later, it comes down to you and the paper.”
+++ reviews “screw me up”
+++ awards made him froze ‘cos now “I have to write good stuff. I don’t write good stuff.”
+++ book: getting ppl to approach writing differently. Not “manufacturer” but as art.
++ LB: writing is discovering your own process

Workshops teach business of it?

++ GR:
+++ yes, just by virtue of the fact that people have experience with that
+++ professional meltdown–things changing
++ LB: agents blog now.

Focus on short-story writing at these workshops?
++ GR: has taught Milford style for novels. lasted two years. result==unfinished novels. There is an OVERLAP, but novels *are* different. Have complexity that short-story model won’t teach you
++ LB: Viable paradise does novels. Blue haven (invitational)
++ Taos Toolbox