A writing workshop should provide feedback and encouragement to help you become a better writer.  I started 12Writing back in 2008 partly because I was tired of paying large sums of money for workshops which I didn't find helpful.  And it's been very challenging, trying to find a way to offer free and/or inexpensive workshops which inspire our visitors to keep writing, but it's a goal I sincerely believe in.

Here I've included the workshop philosophy I use to guide our course offerings.  If I can answer any questions, please Contact me on Facebook.

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How We Conduct Workshops
Here are the guidelines we use writing workshops. These guidelines are designed to balance the critique of the traditional writing workshop with the encouragement of an Amherst Method workshop.
We treat all written work as fiction.
This serves two purposes. First, it's respect for the author. We want a community where anyone can share any story - we don't know the real life story of the author, and we shouldn't judge the writer based on what he or she writes. Second, the "truth" of a story is less important the reader's suspension of disbelief. We want every work - be it fiction, poetry, or memoir - to leave a realistic and lasting impression in the mind of the reader.

We always start with the positives of the piece.
What has the author done well? What does this story or poem accomplish? This way, the author can gauge his or her progress.

We then give the author advice on how to strengthen the piece.
Every story or poem has room for growth, and we are careful to present this in terms of how the future revisions will bring about that improvement. No story is ever "wrong" or "incorrect." The structure may need work, or the imagery may need to be more specific - our goal is to show the writer how to do this.

The author is part of the discussion.
Often, we see a disconnect between what the writer wanted to convey and what the readers actually perceived. Often, authors learn a great deal simply by listening to the feedback from readers. To deepen this, though, the readers often need to know what the author intended.

By following these guidelines, we aim to create an atmosphere which supports writing. A workshop which makes a writer question the decision to write is not only counter-productive, but destructive. Conversely, writers need to see the weakness in their writing in order to address those areas and strengthen their work. We provide the greatest benefit to writers by balancing these two aspects of learning.

Overcoming the Barriers to Good Writing
It's taken years for me to feel "comfortable" writing.  Hours and hours of scribbling, critiquing, and listening to feedback has brought me to a point where writing a sentence now comes as second-nature.  But it wasn't always this way.
As a writer, I see two major barriers to good writing.  The first is language.  Unfortunately, most of us have been trained to write using a "literary" or "expository" voice, using very precise diction loaded with adjectives and adverbs.  We are taught to write "The event occurred on the dark and stormy evening" rather than to just say what happened.  Saddled with visions of the five-paragraph essay and the need to add filler to college papers, we write to fill the page rather than to hold the reader's attention.

The second barrier we face is personal fear.  We quiver in the face of solid, tangible pages.  We dread the idea that others will "judge us" based on the words we can't bear to erase.  Because of this, we hold back.  We refuse to write about the personal, intimate tragedies of life because we don't want friends and family to think "less" of us.

Workshops Should Combine Education and Encouragement

For a workshop to provide the most benefit, it must teach the tools of language while also providing the motivation to write about the intensely personal (and difficult) topics of our lives.  We must temper our critique of language and structure by always including positive feedback.  I feel that many workshops fall short because they tell the writer what to change without first saying what the writer has accomplished.  I want to help you see the natural strengths of what you've written (as the readers will see it), and then I want to help you strengthen it.

Unlike many instructors, I don't believe in limiting feedback to what's on the page.  It's good to find out what it was the author was trying to do.  My goal is to help writers write better, yes, but I think it's even more important to help writers express the story they want to tell.  I see the workshop as a back-and-forth conversation between the writer and the readers.  In a way, the revisions then become part of that conversation.  The writer responds to the feedback, deciding how best to meet the needs of the readers.

This is one reason why I prefer workshops which last longer than a week or two.  Ideally, a workshop group should stay together long enough that you can see the progress in each other's work.  On the flip side, though, you also need exposure to many different readers, so it's best to take more than one workshop a year.  No two workshop groups are exactly alike, and you can learn something new from every reader who considers your piece.

My Goal: Accessible Workshops for Everyone

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to find an "ideal" workshop.  It's unreasonable to expect new writers to dedicate all their resources to writing - we don't always have the time or the money to attend workshops which last the months (or even years) necessary to truly help us.  Because of this, many beginning writers continue their work alone.

Yet without feedback and guidance, it's hard to become a better writer.  It can feel like you're pushing the world all on your own.  This is why I'm beginning a program to offer not only workshops, but writing groups which can be offered free-of-charge. Although 12Writing is a for-profit website, I know that most writers out there (myself included) really can't pay the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars that some sites charge. Yet the quick comments provided by well-meaning friends and English teachers simply don't provide enough guidance to move your fiction and poetry forward.  My goal is to bridge that gap, to provide useful and ongoing feedback which is available for all writers who are willing to put in the effort to succeed.

Here, we're taking a three-tiered approach to helping writers. The first you're observing already - an extensive, open-source blog with helpful links and tips available for all writers. The second are fee-for-service workshops which you might expect from most online workshops. The writing groups will help fill the gap in-between, allowing you to apply lessons from the blog in your writing while receiving feedback from fellow writers without having to part with your money.

My hope is that many of you will find the groups helpful, and that you'll recommend us to your friends. I also hope that you'll make form long-term friendships here, the kinds of mutual friendships that will help everyone move forward as readers and writers. Naturally, I also hope that some will choose to register for some of the "pay-as-you-go" workshops and perhaps even purchase some books from us, but please don't feel like you have to. I've been very fortunate as a writer and even more so as a student - teaching stipends take care of the rent (which is why the site may seem to "hibernate" during the school year) so my fans don't have to.