More on Writing Workshops

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The enjoyable blog Bookninja always educates me while putting a smile on my face, but I did have to groan a little when they pointed out a new entry, published in the New York Press into the “are writing workshops worthwhile or worthless” discussion. I wasn’t groaning at Bookninja pointing it out, but just at the fact of yet another punch being thrown in this fight.

However, Sam Sacks’ article, The Fiction Machine: The Workshop and the hacks, is well-written and thought provoking. And, as Bookninja says, they’ve got this fantastic illustration you see here.

Sacks isn’t shy. He describes a recent experience reading Best New American Voices 2006 and how he felt “the book gives such a desultory vision of the future of American letters that one can only hope its title is wrong. Without ignoring the occasional flashes of verve, the stories included are so monotonous that they seem to have been written by a single person of middling talent. All but one of them are written in the first person; a similar percentage hinge upon the narrator’s difficulties with dysfunctional or deceased members of his or her family, or with ex-lovers. The tone is always confessional and saturated with self-pity. The plot and action are always negligible: one story takes place on a road trip to a presidential birthplace, another while moving apartments, another at a wedding, another while opening presents in front of the Christmas tree. None of this much matters anyway, because the things the characters do are always mundane and largely incidental to their psychological conflicts. From time to time a structural innovation appears to offer an interesting novelty, but under the packaging the same old formula is always to be found.”

Sacks continues dissecting the stories in the anthology and then pulls out the smoking gun. “It should be no surprise that every one of the writers in this anthology have one more thing in common: They have attended writers’ workshops, either in graduate programs or in similarly organized writing conferences,” he writes.

I might argue with some of Sacks’ criticisms, but he does skillfully make some valid points in this thought-provoking article. And if nothing else, I admire Sacks’ ability to make a 3,000 word argument without ranting and raving and crying. Unlike some people we know.

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