BURCH GUIDE FOR CREATIVE NONFICTION WORKSHOPS
Ground Rules: Two ideas based in the ancient saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you:” 1. Deliver the critique in the way in which you would want to hear it. 2. Help your classmate get a good grade; he or she will return the favor. Practical Matters: Come to class with a long paragraph that critiques your classmate’s work. You may write this on the back of your classmate’s manuscript, or you may type it up, print it, and attach it to your copy of your classmate’s work. Use a pen or pencil to make notes, suggestions, and grammatical corrections in the margins of your classmate’s manuscript. Your instructor will add new material (not covered in lectures) during the workshops. Competition: Your workshop-participation grade depends upon your ability to provide a unique, thorough, and helpful critique. To some extent, your grade depends upon your classmates’ critiques. To some extent, your grade will be curved: The best critiques of a workshop will be given an A, and they become a point of reference for the rest of the class’s work. Critiques that merely repeat what has already been said will receive a C or a D. If you find yourself in a situation in which your critique is essentially the same as several of your classmates’, try to listen for possible points of civil disagreement that you can discuss when your turn comes around. Suggestions for critiques: Part One: Always start with brief comments about what you liked about your classmate’s manuscript – what worked well for you? Then, you may continue with these questions: What do you think this essay or memoir is about? What is the central story or idea? Do you think it is a memoir, an essay, a piece of creative cultural criticism? Why? Is it hard to tell? Why? Part Two: What techniques or concepts were used well? Give specific examples from your classmate’s work. Here are some techniques and concepts: persona/voice, word choices with good connotative meanings, plant-and-return, showing (not telling), imagery, concrete particulars, keeping the plates spinning, storytelling, sentence sound & rhythm, planting a question in the reader’s mind, and the 5 Ws. Part Three: What could be better? Give specific advice for editing and rewriting. What got in the way of you enjoying this essay/memoir/creative cultural criticism? What information is missing? What structural elements could help? Would you like to see more of something that’s already there?
This is a guide I use in my intro to creative writing workshop.