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the writer to telling in his own voice as one of the main sources of talent and ability in the art of writing. In the Story Workshops, we consistently see students who, when they experience the connection of the physical voice to the voice with which they write, become excited about learning the skills of verbal expression.The Story Workshop method of teaching writing was originated and developed by John Schultz, chairmanof the English/Writing department at Columbia College, Chicago,where the Story Workshopsare now based. Mr. Schultz is the author of a book of stories and novellas, The Tongues of Men (Follet, Big Table), No One Was Killed (Follet, Big Table) about the Democratic Convention of 1968,and Motion Will Be Denied (Morrow) about the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, and other stories and articles.The Story Workshop method has been used effectively with backgrounds ranging from writers and teachers to students w'ho are public school drop-outs. It accepts the person where it finds him, and guides him to the discovery of his own voice and perceptualpowers. It enables him to learn at his own pace. At Columbia, Story Workshop has served since 1967as the basic teachingmethod for the FreshmanEnglishrequirement,as well as for the core course for the Fiction Writing major.1

iStory Workshops conducted among a wide variety of teen groups have produced several collections of fine writing, including Look What's Happening, Baby, and Homemade Bread. Writing from the Columbia Fiction and FreshmanEnglish Story Workshops appears in the anthologies fl, Don't You Know There's a War On?, and It Never Stopped Raining. "It's the kind of writing that makes me stop what I am doing, pick up the book and set off to find a colleague to share it with." (Robert F. Hogan, Executive Secretary, NCTE)

Story Workshop has for its basis a fully developed theory of voice, seeing, movement, and anticipation.Its format is highlystructured,yet flexible.It utilizes a constantly developingarsenalof word, telling, reading,and writing exercisesof increasingdemand,as the ongoing means of stirring up the student's perceptual powers. Each exercise has its specific goal and implementation,all remainelastic and capableof incorporatingany useful content or teaching technique into their function. Through the workshop director's sensitive perceptual coachings of the student as he engages in the oral exercises,tellings, and readingaloud, the student grows in understandingof the use of his perceptions and their accessibility to him in writing. He develops his talents in a climate of continual rediscovery. When a Story Workshop director takes his chair 'before a semicircle of students, he can expect at least two things: (1) as directorandlistenerhe will share in the semicircle'spleasurableand oftentimes exciting experience of "see(2) by the time the workshop sessionis ing" and telling imaginativeevents, and over, he will have expended a great amount of energy in his director'sfunction of holding both the individualstudent and the workshopto the process of telling, reading, and writing. This he must do without interferingin or coming between the studentsand that process. Everything he does, every moment he spends in the workshop, relates to one or the other of these ends. If he ignores the pleasuresand moment-to-momentexperiencing of his listening role, 'he will find that he has not been listening at all. And if he fails in his role of superb listener, he will have become insensitiveto the students'needs for perceptualcoaching which only he can give, and the

Story Workshopas a Method of Teaching Writing 143 workshop will not long produce any- imaginativeactivity through the use of word exercises,word play. However, at thing worth hearing. this or any other momentin a workshop be directors must Story Workshop writers with a minimum of two years of session,he may move in many ways with trainingin the workshop experience.Di- many choices availableto him according rectors are trainedin no other way, and to the activity he perceiveswill best move the training is never "finished."From the workshoptoward its goal of writing. John Schultz'sfundamentalbreakthrough The exercises are done for their own in establishingStory Workshop theory sake, and for a multitude of reasonsall and method, and from his continued de- at once. The directormust use his awarevelopment and exploration,a large body ness of every moment of the workshop of well-marriedtheory and practice has session to direct that moment toward emerged.This storehouseof practicalin- wnriting,just as a writer is aware of each formation and insight is applied and re- word, pause,sentence, and image that is appliedto each new workshopundertak- part of the fulfillmentof a story. It will ing in a continuousflow of trainingand happen that the workshop can move seasoning for every workshop director. directly andsuccessfullyinto telling after a particularlyvivid recall, though it is not usual. The word exercisesare most Operation of the Workshop often a necessary prelude and help to The Story Workshop director faces a vivid tellings. Tellings tend to occur semicircleof up to eighteenstudentswith later in the session as the imaginative chairs arrangedso that each person is powers are evoked, stimulated,and alvisible to the others,perhapsfive to nine lowed to build through a wisely chosen feet from the director'schair. It is im- series of activities. Again, the director portant that everyone be aware of the may elect to begin the session with an bodily presence of everyone else, and evocative, well chosen readingselection, that no strainingor craning be visually or move directly to reading after the necessaryin orderto maintainthat aware- beginning recall. ness. The director will usually begin the One Word Exercise session with a verbal recall of tellings, In most cases, after the recall the direadings, and words from the previous meeting. The workshop recall is not a rector will begin the oral exercises by summaryin any sense, but a bringing to asking each student in turn to give a life of imagery and events. The director word-"One word," directing the stucoachesthe studentswheneverneeded,so dents to push away all ordinaryassociathe recalled event "can be seen again, tions with the word just before it. happeningnow." To emphasizethe rein- "Gasoline," someone says, then "key forcementfunction of recall, he may ask chain,"then "blue,"and the One Word such things as, "What do you remember exercisehas begun. The directorcoaches that was particularlyclear? See it, tell it the studentsto give the "felt word," "the word that surprisesyou," "the word you happeningagain right now." After the recall, the director will or- have not preparedbefore it is your turn." dinarilymove the workshopinto the area Concentrationsettles upon the semicircle of imaginativeplay, stirring or evoking as students struggle together to see and



feel what each word evokes for them individually. "Let it happen, let the word evoke something for you," the director coaches. Each word should be singular in sound, each one given with a different voice, a voice that is aware of the word. "Give the word while you see it and are aware of it," is important coaching for instantaneous reception of each word in the semicircle, as students tend to separate their awareness from their pronunciation of the word. It is equally important that the director coach the students in the semicircle to actively "receive" each word that is given with their individual feelings, sights, and perceptions. Quickly students learn to discern between a superficially associative word movement and one that shows deeply felt connections. The movement between bathtub and soap is purely chronological, a superficial sort of association, but the word progression silk, wwander,darken,

surprise in responding, and demonstrates to the student that he does not need to prepare his response ahead of time; in other words, he does not need to "plan everything" in order to respond at his best level. Here the connection between the surprise principle of response and the act of writing should be understood. When he is writing, the writer needs to trust that his perceptual and expressive abilities will be available to him at any given moment, whether he has planned ahead or not. If he comes to the "foreseen" moment, and through his "planning ahead" tells it mechanically, without awareness, or the quality of surprise, or his perception, or his voice, that moment will be dead, robbed of authority and presence. The Story Workshop exercises develop the awareness of moment and of movement which give the authority that a reader expects from a story. An infinite number of variations of spoon, crevice, sour, chant,rope, buttonhole, peapod,mirror,mouse springsfrom the One Word exercise exist, and are a higher (and deeper) degree of concen- continually being developed. It is imtration; it is instantly experienced by the portant to note that the Story Workshop student as multiple leaps of imagination. method has been greatly extended and It is an easy step from the One Word illumined by all the developments, inexercise to simple image telling. The sights, and contributions to the format director can isolate a "felt" or "aware" made by the Columbia staff of thirteen word that was given: "Everybody see trained writer/directors, under the superhis rope," pointing to the person who vision of Mr. Schultz. Yet in its principal originally gave rope, "and use it, do aims and general structure the workshop something with it. ... Now what's hap- method remains basically what it was in pening? What do you see? Who do you 1965, when John Schultz designed it for see? What is that person doing with the adults who wished to write professionally. rope?" Or the director can allow volun- The method of Story Workshop helps teer images to occur, spun off of any of the director to respond perceptively in the One Word responses. "When it's each different classroom situation. your turn, give a word or a quick sight, In order to serve the needs of a workan image." Again, the images or sights shop, its director must be able to exmay be volunteered out of turn as they plore and develop the basic format of occur to individual students, or the di- the word exercises with a thorough, not rector may call on students out of se- hazy, understanding of the principles inquence. This assists the useful element of volved, of seeing and voice, responseand

Story Workshopas a Method of Teaching Writing 145

The Take-a-PlaceExercise

Verb exercise, the director asks someone in the semicircle to choose a place that is familiar to him, to "see it now" rather than rake through memories, and stay in the one place in his imagination until the end of the exercise. The student holding the place is instructed to let his eye, that eye which he possesses in his imagination, roam about the place until an object strikes his eye, or chooses him. He gives the unmodified object-"matchbox" instead of "torn up blue matchbox"-to the semicircle with his voice. Then the director instructs the students to see the individual sights which have been evoked in their minds by the giving of the object in its unmodified, unqualified form. There will be as many individual sights of the object as there are students in the semicircle, and now each student's sight should be as explicit as his concentration will permit. The director then starts to the left or right of the student in the place, pointing to each student in turn around the semicircle and asking him to respond to his individual sight of the object with a verb. "Hoard," for instance, or "chatter" might be verbs given by persons in the semicircle in response to their individual sights of "matchbox." The student in the place, giving the objects, does not give verbs in response to the objects he sees. When all other students in turn around the semicircle have responded to his object with a verb and his turn has come round again, he lets a moment elapse, lets his eye roam about the place in his mind, then gives the next object that strikes his eye while he sees it. The director will not permit any two verb responses to be the same word; the second student to give a verb that has already been given will be instructed to "respond again." Responses are not limited to what the object can "do," as in

In the Take-a-Place or Place-Object-

chair-squeak, chain-rattle, or even tail

telling, anticipation

and movement.


instance, when the word responses are flat, when every word is being given so that it sounds like every other word, the director should know that for some reason the students are feeling constricted in their responding. They are not allowing the sights and feelings they have for the words to enter their physical voices. Then it is helpful to coach, "Give your word with a gesture," or simply, "Let

your body move as you give your word." If there is body movement with each response, the individual words will cease to sound alike. The awareness of the semicircle will become enriched and awakened in each case with the body the experience and expectation-what student knows, and knows physicallyabout the word. The following are some of the common and most useful variations of the One Word exercise: Give a verb. Give a verb with a gesture. Give an object. Give an object from a dream. Give an object you can hold in your hands. Do something with it. This variation can move immediately into quick, short tellings. Give an object you are uncomfortable with. Give the dirtiest, filthiest, cussing word or phrase or exclamation that you can think of. This variation, often used about the third or fourth session, clears the air of tensions produced by the students worrying about whether or not the director will accept street language. It can leap quickly into short tellings, and often produces unusually strong tellings. (See

Voice Acceptance.)



light-wink. The exerciseworks on several levels, demandinga deeper response which engages both the objective and subjective perceptions the student has aboutthe object.The directorwill coach, "Responddeeply to 'mirror.'Includethe implicationsmirror has for you in your response. Reject-say no to-all cliche responses." In respondingwith a verb, the student must be free of any obligation to summarize or explain his sight. He is not "writing in air," but letting the word come out of the richnessof his feelings for the object. He is engagingin healthy productiveplay that rides the great leaps of his imaginationjust the way any good writer works. In responding,the student must understandthat "sight" paradoxically does not always come first, but often follows on the heels of the spoken word, springing always from the same source in image, or from the imaginative event which the studentis in the process of discovering.At a deep level of verbal response, photograph-chafe, sandtease, checkbook-crowd, mirror-float, or tail light-moan, both studentand director hear the evocations of the naked word and participatein its power. After severalroundsof verb responses, the directorcan ask if an imaginedplace, or image, or happening,or fragment of an event has developed in someone's mind. However, Take-a-Place does not have to be directed toward tellings at all times and is valuable as a stirringup of the perceptual powers. In beginning workshopsit is best not to direct Takea-Place specifically toward tellings until students have masteredthe rudimentary perceptualand linguisticdemandsof this exercise.

nets wide, being carefulto exclude nothing that may be taking place in the students' imaginations.Too narrow a focus on only one sort of "permissible"response will be unnecessarily limiting when the director wishes to elicit imagery and other imaginative events after the Take-a-Place responses have been given. He must make clear to the studentsthat imagesor eventsor "sights" may come variouslyfrom the place forming in theirminds,fromthe objectsgiven, from the verb responses, or from any other suggestionsin the student'simagination.The studentmust not feel morally bound to create or "see" something that he will tell from each object and response. And paradoxically,the director must make it clear to him that there will be times when he will let his place change,too, and that in the act of telling many more surpriseswill happen. In any case, when Take-a-Place is directed toward imagery and event, vivid tellings should follow. Tail lightmoan may conjurethe presenceof a man in a white shirt with his sleevesrolled up driving a country road at night in an old station wagon. There is a smell of creek water and the raw scent of fresh oil blowing in the windows. He is warm, his legs ache, he is sleepy, and he must sing to keep his eyelids from sneakingdown. The loose muffler rattles and drags on bumps, and up ahead the red gleam of another tail light moans around yet another dusty curve that he must follow before he can lock the car and fall on his bed and sleep. Studentsshould feel free to give short images as well as full tellings.

Coaching The director must take great care to Without concentrationthe studentand get the sequence of instructionsstraight his to any writer "sees" or senses nothing of for this exercise, and also spread

Story Workshopas a Method of Teaching Writing 147 any vividness or import. It happens frequently that the student trying to tell an image will keep his eyes to one degree or another on the director for approval. This invariably weakens or prevents the imaginative sight. It is imperative that the director coach the student until his eyes are off the teacher and his entire concentration focused firmly on the imaginative sight in his own mind. Then he will be only vaguely aware of sights and faces in the room. He pours his full trancelike energy on the event taking place before his mind's eye, and wastes not a shred of energy upon looking inadvertently to the teacher for approval. While the student tells, the director plays the role of a superb listener. He asks only those questions which help draw forth the image without "leading" the movement or causing interference in the telling. "Where is she--What is she near?" Not: "Is she close to him?-Is she touching the gun?" Again, constructive questioning will be, "What is she doing right now?" Not, "Is she washing her face?" Ask, "What sounds do you hear?" Not, "Do you hear a train whistle?" "What is she doing with her hand?" and "Where is she looking?" can increase the student's awareness of the sight, unless used insensitively, while "What happens next?" is a coaching instruction that keeps the movement flowing. Along with "See it," and "Listen to your voice," "What happens next?" is one of the basic principled instructions of Story Workshop. It calls upon the student to extend his powers of curiosity and seeing, to extend and "let happen" his play of intelligence and perception, to anticipate, to make leaps of imagination, to begin to get in touch with the movement of story and the vivid, revelatory completeness of image. "What happens next?" followed by "And then what happens?"

followed again by "And then what happens?" goes a long way toward laying bare the bones of any potential story movement. Sometimes the director can jolt free a blocked-up telling by asking, "Where in his body is he aware of that fear? What does it feel like?" and "Tell it in present tense, present time." "Tell it in the third person." "See it now!"

The Written Exercise The written exercise, which may take place any time during the workshop session, but which generally occurs toward the end when perception is judged to be at a peak, is structured to draw forth, not diminish, the reality of the imagined event. All writing coachings are aimed toward getting the student's perceptions onto the paper through his voice with the minimum of interference: "Write as fast as you can!" "Get this voice," the director coaches, perhaps touching his own throat, "down on paper." "Tell it to the paper"-"Write it the way you tell it""Let your arm be an extension of what you see"-"See everything you write""Be aware of the place, see objects, see what the people are doing with objects." Notice that the student is not given a limiting topic to write about. The perception of the individuals in the workshop is presumed to be unusually high at the time of the written exercise, and it is very likely that the student will be able to get down on paper some of the sights which are passing before the eye of his imagination at the moment the written exercise begins.

When writing a first draft, contrary to the usual classroom instructions, the student is told he should never stop to rearrange words. Never worry about sentence structure, grammar, or punctua-



Workshop does employ a group effort and concentration that is strongly beneficial to the individual. What helps the individual is good for the group effort. A person sitting in the semicircle should have no worry of violation by the director or the rest of the group, for the single reason that the aim of the workshop is to produce good writing, not to save souls or engage in therapy. The director does not seek to render therapeutic interpretaproper order of things: that is, before tions of the imaginative events told, or the final draft and at the end of the of any of the proceedings of the workprocess of retelling, or rewriting. The shop. He does not indulge in the manipudirector will find that by that time the lation of personalities. He has no cause student has learned much and become or need to stress interpersonal relationconfident of grammar. ships. The student will become aware of interpersonal relationships that interfere with the learning process, and will Group Effort usually acquire the insights necessary to The student's privacy must be re- set these aside. But the director may have spected by the director when he tells in to take firm, objective action to set aside the semicircle and when he writes in his some interpersonal hang-ups, conflicts, journal at home. In the semicircle the rivalries, or mutual admiration relationstudent is not revealing secrets: rather, ships. His clear anger, expressed for the with the director's aid, he is exploring sake of the writing goal of the workshop, and testing the possibilities of his writing will be life-giving at times. Every activity materials according to his best percep- and demand that takes place in the worktions. A student in the semicircle par- shop is moved solely toward the writing ticipates with the director's countenance, objective. demand, and personality upon him, and However, many positive growth in full sight of every other student in the changes and therapeutic results do occur room. for the student in this work context. The The impact of the word exercises is director will often ask the group to spontaneous, usually producing a lively strive to listen, to concentrate, to tell, and enjoyable shared experience which and to engage in the general question of in turn causes a redoubled flow of energy what is good writing by making an efback into the activity of the workshop. fort and by relaxing and being attentive However, Story Workshop does not and "letting it happen." All these efforts operate on an encounter group philoso- are felt by the individual as energy diphy, nor does it use encounter group rected toward him, put at his disposal, to techniques.A director who tries to use be used in his own way at his own pace it that way is misusing the workshop. and discretion. The uniqueness of the Whenever interpersonal conflicts or satis- individual is stressed; the semicircle is factions supersede the goal of writing and never purposely leveled toward a sametelling, the workshopis in trouble.Story ness or uniformity of any sort. If a sametion, or stop to look up the spelling of a word in the dictionary. During the heat of a rough draft, he should avoid doing anything that could block the rapid flow of perceptions or his sense of the movement of the event transpiring in his mind. Throughout the workshop experience, the director makes plain the fact that grammar, punctuation, and spelling are essential to clear writing, and that they are to be given all due attention in the

Story Workshop as a Method of Teaching Writing ness does seem to be in effect and the students feel it, then probably there is a complicity between students and director to keep it so. Sameness can properly be seen only as a curse to writers struggling to speak in their own voices. For this reason, workshop differences of environmental circumstance, cultural, and ethnic background are welcomed, not "overcome," because they are integral to the student's voice and experience. If we accept his voice, we accept his culture and his background. We welcome it, wherever he comes from, and work to develop from there the many broadening and heightening cultural, imaginative, and linguistic possibilities. No workshop director should think for one minute that he could pretend to accept a student's voice and then trick or transform him into something standard, and still have authority and presence in that student's imaginative events.

The Director In trying to assist the student, the director must take full care not to violate or stand in the way of the student's most precious responsibility: the discovery of his own voice and perceptual powers. This discovery process cannot be accomplished by any amount of explaining or defining for the student what the discovery ought to be. The director's "explaining" energies should be trained on making the directions to the various exercises clear to the student, and on making clear that both director and student are out to discover the student's writing voice. The director can expect to explain these instructions again and again as long as he directs a workshop. They are really instructions for the basic principles of imaginative work.


The basic instructionsof Story Workshop director to student, of artist to himself, are the basic principles of imaginative and perceptual verbal expression. See it-Literally in your mind, as clearly as in a dream, see it. See what is evoked by the word, see your imaginative event, see what is happeningas you write. Seeing is conceiving. It is also "perception" in general. "Touching" it is "seeing" it. "Smelling"it is "seeing"it. "Abstracting"-be

careful how your students

understandthat word-is "seeing"it. Listen to your voice-See it, and tell it so someone else can see it too. See it, and write it so someone else can see it and experience it. "Listen to your voice, listen for your voice." Writing is not altogether an extension of speech, but writing has its source in voice, and we want the power and authority of voice to flow into and be present in the writing. The student enters the process of discovering his voice, its responsive abilities, and its sustaining power of presenceand movement in writing as well as speech. Let it happen-suspendthe manipulative efforts to come up with content, values and attitudesin writing that will meet the approval of seeming literary trends-let the story happen-let the event happenlet the people exist-let all the powers of imagination, curiosity, intelligence and voice work together-let it happen. What happens next?-This instruction helps the student to reach out with all the play of his imaginative and perceptual abilities.It develops his powers of anticipation, of making choices, combinations, simplifications,leaps. It helps him to permit the movement of a story or other imaginativeevent. It helps him come near enough to experience the event so that he can anticipate what can happen. What is happening an hour later? The next day? What happensnext? Give it-Give. It. "Giving" it means that you let go of what you have to say in speech or writing and also releaseyour urgency for someone else to hear it. "Giving" it and the need to give it, for teller and listener, may be what actually calls

forth the awareness of word and image. The difference between "given" words



and the same words when they are not given is startlingto the listener.The word not given causes nothing to happen. The given word causes perceptions, imaginative sights, and feelings to be evoked for the listener and for the teller listening to his own voice. You can see this difference on paper when the student writes down words, too. There is a different tone for each act of perception when it is given. Listen-and listen to what happens to you as you listen. The listenerlearns,perceives, affirms, celebrates, and has pleasure of what he hears. In a Story Workshop, the roles of teller and listener, and teller listening to himself, move from one participantto anotherand back again.The director/teacher is mainly an active authority/listener, though vigorous speech of many differenttones is often needed to bring life to the workshop.2 The director's approval of a student's telling or writing is in general a powerful thing so long as it reflects the director's strengths, honesty, ability, and positive views of life rather than his weaknesses. He should suspect that something is wrong if the students' voices begin to sound like his voice when it is flat and not working. The director should in no way reinforce a student's work on the basis of his fondness for the subject matter or the manner of telling. He may rightly express his approval of the quality of perception in the writing itself. When the director finds himself inclined to give approval to any form of sentimentality, or to writing that tries for the stereotyped laugh, the joke, or the punch line, or to writings that are notable mainly for their avoidance of perception, then both he and the workshop are in trouble. Any avoidance of the director's will be unanimously reflected in avoidance by the students in the semicircle. 2John Schultz, "Columbia College's Story Workshop," Associated Writing Programs Newsletter (January, 1973), Washington College, Chestertown, Md.

Those areas of life that annoy, hurt, displease, anger, or in any other way unsettle the director will disappear from his students' telling and writing, and perhaps from their perceptions as well. He might just as well instruct his semicircle: "These portions of the truth are not good to write about, and will not be rewarded here." The loss will be limitless. It will spread through the entire workshop and will be observable in every activity from the One Word exercise to the telling, the reading, and the writing. It will be a "black mass" said in tribute to the negative powers inherent in all teaching. It will be the death of the workshop. Every area of life is valid material for the writer. Vital responses must not be denied in favor of slavish responses to the director's fantasies and biases, usually prevalent in the culture and reinforced in the schools. His willingness to become self-aware cannot be overstressed. Also, to assist his objectivity, he should ask an experienced director to "sit in" and observe him and his workshop. The observer always participates. No director is perfect, and all will from time to time give approval to aspects of writing that affirm their own perceptual weaknesses, rather than reinforce the student's strength. The director is obliged at all times to stay on the edge of his awareness of his own vulnerabilities. His approval is given or withheld in many subtle ways. It can come from nonverbal sources such as the total body gesture or stance, when he crosses his legs at a particular moment in the telling, turns his head, or moves his hand. Approval or disapproval can be conveyed by anything the director does, and often by what he does not do. But his healthiest and most accessible counterbalance is to continue to elicit and recognize a broad variety of

Story Workshopas a Method of Teaching Writing 151 experience and of nuance of experience in the tellings, readings, and writings. The director's responsiveness, his genuine excitement and pleasure, should never be withheld from the workshop. rt not only conveys his willingness to hear whatever content will be told so long as the student struggles to tell with the full use of his perceptions, but it offers a teaching reinforcement which can greatly advance the students' understanding of image: what it is and when it has happened. For instance, in the early sessions of a beginning workshop, immediately after a fine image has been told, it is helpful to ask, "When in that image, at what moment in the telling, did something first happen for you? Do you remember what he (the student teller) was saying then?" And in a longer telling where several such "moments" have occured, the director can ask several students around the semicircle for another moment when there was a "quickening," and another, and so on. Identifying the sharp moments in a telling provides a way for the director to give practical definition of his shorthand language, "moment," "happen," "quicken," etc., language which he will use frequently in relating word, image, and event to movement and story. At the same time it reinforces what the students need to understand about the Recall. The director must, of course, expect that the students in the semicircle are making "formulas" about what an image is, and how they may successfully arrive at one according to the "moments" in the images which he has just helped them to identify. He should know that this is part of the learning process and cannot be avoided. (When directors try to avoid the making of formulas by withholding their own responsiveness, they only suc-

ceed in bringing a deathly blandness to their workshops.) In the following sessions the director will simply have to deal with any formulas which appear in the students' writing or telling. He does this by holding up every kind of good image that happens in the workshop, both in student tellings and writings, and in published works which are read aloud and recalled. The director's expectation is also a significant aspect of his relationship to his workshop. It is the same with any teacher in any classroom in the land: if the director or teacher expects his students to be "dumb" and to perform poorly, then he surely will not be disappointed. Expectation has two functions: self-fulfilling-thinking a group will do poorly or trusting that it will be "good"-and sharpening. If the director lets himself not know exactly what to expect in a given moment, it sharpens his perceptions about what he sees and hears and senses is going on in the workshop session. Accordingly, this has a quickening effect upon his sensitivity to what is needed next, what exercise or activity will best move the workshop and the individual forward. The director will, of course, also plan for the workshop session.

The director is a power in the semicircle and should never experience himself otherwise. He should simply place full concentration on the strengthening aspects of that power. It is largely through his sensitive use of approval, voice, gesture, and selection that the student apprehends the positive, often stringent, demands necessary for his process and growth.

Reading The reading aloud in the workshop



is the occasion for a synthesis in the writing of all forms proceeds from sight, growth of the student, a coming together perception, movement, and is told with or joining of the principles of image and the power of the author's own voice. The director may ask the students to movement. These occur simultaneously in the process of writing or reading a bring in short selections of unassigned story. When either director or student reading which they wish to share with reads aloud, there will be a vibrant, ex- the semicircle. This adds considerably to pectant concentration on the spoken the idea that reading can be pleasurable; word. This quality of listening is an ac- and that aloud or silent, it need never be tive unifying force unheard of in most seen as the solitary performance of duty classrooms today, and much could be said or interminable droning of a dull classhere about the educational implications room experience. In the outloud reading of any selection, of active listening. Certainly the semithe director may ask the student to exis format which an circle educational makes alert and intelligent listening pos- change seats with him, and let him read sible in the classroom. It provides a fertile from the director's chair. Or he may pass atmosphere for any learning activity that the book directly around the semicircle the director would like to try. But the for each student in turn to read a portion highest moment of synthesis, and perhaps of the selection. This method has the the most productive event in the work- advantage of saving the time used in shop, occurs when the student, reading changing chairs and settling attention as aloud, hears his voice and perception each new reader begins. Because less concentration is broken between readers, the joined with the voice of the story. The workshop stresses the use of a voice of the story is more consistently broad variety of reading materials to en- and stably present in the voices of the sure a broad spectrum of writing pos- several readers, a boost to the uncertain sibilities. It concentrates on no one author reader in his search to "find the voice of or culture or genre or style. In a high the story." However, the strongest school or adult workshop, five or six coaching and frequently the clearest stubooks are assigned for the semester. These dent readings occur when the student will be read outside the workshop and takes the director's chair. He is then parts of them aloud in the workshop. If more aware of the force of the attention the age grouping permits, the director of the workshop poured in upon him. will be sure to include in the oral reading When the student accepts and uses this vivid excerpts from longer works, such force, it brings added clarity and auas Moby-Dick, War and Peace, Huckle- thority to his reading. For this reason it berry Finn, Native Son, and other fine would be a serious mistake not to allow novels. Also, in the oral reading he will every student the experience of reading include complete short movements to be from the director's chair at least some of read straight through in one workshop the time. The same principles of seeing and persession, brief stories with strong movement: folk tales and fairy tales of all ception that apply in the oral telling times and cultures, poems, articles, ex- apply to the oral reading, as they do also cerpts from writers' journals, and selec- to the act of writing. The communication tions from the works of naturalists and of the scene from the printed page hapother scientists. These stress that good pens for those in the semicircle only

Story Workshop as a Method of Teaching Writing


in the story, and to communicate those perceptions with his own voice. If a reader insists on rushing pell-mell across the page, the director will coach him to "Slow down!" "Give it time to happen," "Take the pauses; listen to the pauses, be aware of the pauses; the pauses are part of the story," or tell him to "Give full value for every word!" The good story being flatly read, and consequently rejected in the semicircle, means that the director must pursue his job of coaching even more vigorously than before. "Listen to the pace of the sentence!"-"Listen to the pace of the sentence in your voice." Many times a directly spoken "Give it!" will shift a flat reading into clarity. The director can help a faltering confused reader by coaching, "Trust that the sentence will end," or "Feel the span of a whole senimage. The student quickly learns to absorb tence; now hear that in your voice." His coaching and respond to it with a mini- simple admonition to "Take each word mum of interference. First and most basic as it comes" can relieve a student from is the instruction to see-"See it; see worrying ahead. This worrying ahead, every object, every action as you read." or worrying about getting to the end of If the student is rushing so that neither the sentence, causes some poor readers he nor the people in the semicircle can to continually compound their "missee what is being read, the director may takes." Both public-speaking classroom habit say: "Take your time and see it; stop now, and see him kicking that snake and emotional desperation will cause readers to grasp at the exterior inflection, before you read another word-we'll wait; everyone, see him kick the snake." to act out, to punch certain words or Once the student understands he is liter- syllables in the effort to forcibly insert ally to see what he is reading, and then meaning into them from the outside, igtries to see one object or action and suc- noring the well-springs of their percepceeds in doing so, he almost invariably tions. But reading content and presence, goes on seeing the next action, the next no less than telling content and presence, object and the next. He forgets he is can never be imposed or driven in from engaged in the strain of a public reading, the outside. Like every other activity of and enjoys what he is seeing in a way the workshop, it must begin with the that draws everyone in the semicircle perceiver and proceed in an outward into the story. If nothing intrudes be- direction. The director must move to retween the reader and his vision of the verse the direction of the energy in a story, he will continue to see, hear, smell, punched, public-speaking reading. "Read taste, and feel everything that transpires it in a monotone"-"Equal stress for

when it happens for, is "seen" and felt by, both the writer and the reader. This often varies from moment to moment in a reading, causing variations in reception. Listeners in the semicircle will sometimes comment that the reader was alternately "in" and "out of" the story during the reading. Seeing is as natural to reading as it is to telling and writing; but most of us, in the process of "getting educated," have lost the knack of seeing what we read; we tend to read only for the retention of information. Many conditioned factors present obstacles to the reader's perceptions. It is the function of the director, through perceptual and voice coachings, to hold the student to the process of seeing and perceiving moment to moment, sentence to sentence, and image to



every word!" Here the reader may need the director's help to establish a precedent. He can demonstrate, "Equal-

they wish their students to have during every workshop session. The director may witness a strong But to snap shared reading experience around the ..." stress-for-every-word. a strongly entrenched pattern of exterior semicircle which is vividly reflected later inflection, he must be fearless: "Quit on in the recall of imagery, and yet find acting! Stop doing things with your that it has not been a reading that leads voice!" It should be clear that that sort to or helps develop writing. One of his of acting is not good theatrical acting most cherished responsibilities as director either. is the choosing of material which evokes "Listen to your voice, as if you were telling and leads, ultimately, to writing. The first basis of the director's selechearing it from the outside," brings to bear a fine self-correcting objectivity. tivity is to discover stories which give When the reader who is already seeing a universal experience with a strength of everything he reads and giving it sensi- voice and perception that moves student tively and clearly, actually hears his own writers to set down their own unique voice reading, he invariably communi- stories. Their stories can come from limitcates the written event with a further less combinations of experiences and releasing of authority. In the case of the imagination spun off of the universal of experienced workshop reader, the direc- such a strong story. "Gym Period," by tor may use more sophisticated coach- Rilke, is a story told out of the author's ings: "Exaggerate every perception! "memory of the death of an unathletic "Read in a monotone"-"Dreamy smooth boy during the gym class of a military and slow," or "Staccato!"-"Now read school Rilke was forced to attend in his at normal speed and see everything you youth. In this one story movement, we read." If the director uses these coach- find not only the universals of repressive ings vigorously in sequence, they can institutions with all the fears, pains, and cause a sensitive reading to blossom into feelings of failure that accompany them, a powerful reading. but also the element of competition, and The director must not fail to have the amazingly, the seeds of humor. Like the audacity to interfere with a poor read- workshop exercises, stories of strong ing. It is not a kindness to let it go on. voice and universal content will offer Poor readings have a tendency to de- students the maximum writing possiteriorate even further without coaching, bility, and the permission to act on these due to the reader's feelings of panic which possibilities, at the same time they exert are heightened by corresponding waves a high degree of writing demand. They of impatience or boredom coming back cause excitement about communication, to him from the semicircle. Thus a sort about writing, and they clearly demonof spiraling paralysis envelopes the di- strate principles of writing. rector and his workshop so long as he In oral readings-for that matter, in hesitates to perform the function of get- the course of tellings as well-the directing the reader into his perceptions. Di- tor may be surprised to hear laughter rectors also do their workshops no good from the semicircle during a passage by hoarding the oral readings to them- that is not funny in the usual sense. The selves out of worry that weak readers passage can be sad, fearful, tragic even, will not provide "the great experience" as in "Gym Period," and still evoke the

Story Workshopas a Method of Teaching Writing 155 honest laughter of recognition. This laughter is to be welcomed in a workshop because it signals the recognition of a common human experience. Laughter of recognition may be caused by any emotional content. Also, the laughter during a painful passage may be a healthy relief, and a true indication that the reading, or the event on the printed page, is being perceived and experienced by the reader and the entire workshop. After a strong reading experience of a story such as "Gym Period," or of the killing of the kitten in Richard Wright's Black Boy, or of any story that tells of an almost universal human experience, the director may often elicit strong writing or telling with the following exercises:

Instruct the students to concentrate on their feeling about the story and respond in turn with a surprise verb. Then have a quick recall of imagery and event. Then ask, "What is the story about?" Here the director should not want debate, but a concrete, evocative statement, such as: "It's about a boy who killed himself by succeeding." Then the director may ask, "What does the story remind you of?" Good writing or telling may come out at this point.

Voice Acceptance Now a few words should be said about the honesty of the teacher. It is entirely necessary to the operation of the workshop that the director relieve the student of his prior understanding that certain words are bad and to be deleted from his usage, and that certain words by comparison are good. Many teachers are personally afraid of the intrusion of the language of the street, not because they fear the words themselves, but because they fear that the "raunchy"

words will take over completely, and that unconstructive attitudes will develop among students. Actually, the opposite occurs. After a brief flurry of acceptance, the feared words are almost always given appropriately along with all the other words in the student's speech. The acceptance voice then brings about a new discipline and a new intensity of listening in the workshop. The workshop director must make it plain that there are no bad words. The student's prior understanding comes directly out of twelve years of biased institutional schooling. During this time the student was continually and emphatically reminded by the attitude and "permission" of his teachers and by the fabric, air, and appearance of the institution which he attended, that he must leave his own language outside. Words, phrases, syntax, and sentence structure which constitute his reality of speaking, hearing, perceiving, and understanding, and which therefore reveal his own voice, all had to be left at the door when he entered the classroom. In all his school years he has been operating according to a dual standard: one language, vocabulary, and syntax for outdoors and home, another for the classroom. He has one language and vocabulary to use in expressing himself about all the things that are vital to himhis daily realities of play, fear, anger, guilt, home, pleasure, work, fun-and a second language for school. Little wonder that "school language" is dead, removed from him, abstract in the negative sense, and not vital to his keen interests. Imagine the dishonesty of the teacher who in effect says daily to his pupils: "Leave your reality at the door of this room; now please learn; and, oh yes, be creative, too." Who learns without a firm base in his own reality? Who can suspend a sense of his own being and yet sustain



curiosity? And who can perceive and learn without a curiosity to lead the intelligence of his imagination? When the student enters the workshop, he is sure to play the academic game of pleasing teacher and finding the "right" answer unless the director prevents him from doing so. He thinks he must find out what the director wants; it is the only pattern of classroom survival he knows. In a thousand subtle ways, he earnestly presses the Story Workshop director to answer his all-important question: "What do you want, teacher?" None of his former divining rods obtain; he is thrown into academic limbo. Finally, he will come to understand in his bones that the director is saying, in effect: "I want what you can do; I want what you can tell," and that the director has realistically high expectations about what the quality of that might be. Now the director's attitude can have a positive effect upon the learning processes of both the well-prepared, or gifted student, and the so-called drop-out, or the student who barely functions academically. The gifted student, in playing the academic game so well, has often narrowed, minimized, and suppressed his talents and abilities. The drop-out, or poorly-prepared student, habitually tests low on standardized tests. The student does not exist who has not long ago accustomed his mind and body to playing or "failing" at the academic game. The director must refuse to cooperate in the seductions of that game. He should combine this refusal with positive encouragements, such as "Use your words to tell it," and "Tell it with your own voice." This will force the student back upon his own reality, consequently upon his own curiosity, strength, and possibilities. The director's insistence upon the student's own reality and this necessary forcing

him back upon it are by no means always met with jubilation. But in no other way will the director be able to make it possible for a student to express himself about those aspects of his life which are lively and important to him, the aspects upon which he can willingly lavish his care. In some cases, the director will have made it possible for his student to write, and also to become a writer. The student whose classroom situation allows him to accept his own voice and language and syntax as valuable is liberated to advance from that base in his own reality, and enabled thereafter to learn, to make changes in his punctuation or grammar or sentence structure because those changes serve the clarity he so keenly desires. Grammar, punctuation, and syntax are most certainly concerns of clear writing. But all teachers would do well to remember that these were first an abstracting from principles of speech, a "drawing out" and codifying of the factors observable in speech. Then these abstracted codified principles are reimposed upon the written word. If we hope to use them productively, we must understand that all three, grammar, punctuation, and syntax, grow from voice, perception, and movement, not vice-versa. Notice that most students speak more grammatically than they write. It is virtually impossible to commit a "comma blunder" when speaking. If we examine a spoken sentence, we see that breath pauses do keep separate thoughts from running into one another. Heed the warning. To pretend to accept a student's voice is of no use. It is the Story Workshop director's actual acceptance of voice and syntax as being valuable the way it is, even if it never changes, that allows the "poor" student to hear his voice in all its strength, beauty, and possibility. Then he is free to develop the "skills" which

Story Workshopas a Method of Teaching Writing 157 he lacks, and which he has been punished In the workshop the director does not so long for lacking. His desire to tell im- "hand back" work in the usual sense. ages, stories, events will overcome his en- When possible, both he and the student trenched feelings of failure. Now he can keep copies. The director may at times become aware of the language alterna- talk with the student about his writing. tives, the many choices which are avail- Any time he talks to the student about able to him in finding a way of telling his writing, he tries to relate problems (his own variety of street language, or and breakthroughs in the way he hears vocabulary and syntax aided by "Stan- the student tell, orally, in the semicircle, dard English," etc.) which will best serve to the way he tells on paper, and vicethe meaning he wishes to convey in a versa. This kind of talk and comparison is one of the Story Workshop director's given moment, or sentence. best tools, and he should never for any reason ignore it. The director knows a Process great deal, perhaps more than he realizes, In the Story Workshop none of the about his student's abilities and problems director's time or energy is wasted in and the way he best solves them for himcorrecting papers or determining grades self. When the director is talking to a for papers. Neither does he let himself student about his writing, he should stop be plagued by trying to grade inadequate and think about the way that student pieces of student work as if they were tells, and listen to the student's physical "finished." He regards every telling and voice in his memory. writing moment in the workshop as part Breakthroughs generally occur first in of a process taking place over time. This the oral telling, though not in every case. process should not be fragmented and An obstacle in one area may be overcome prevented from happening by putting the or dispelled by attention to the other. emphasis of success or failure on each iso- When the director reinforces the ongoing lated piece of work. The director sets activities of the workshop while he is down a simple letter grade based on per- talking to a student, even a brief amount formance and individual progress at the of conversation can remove obstacles to end of the term, or whatever grading his better writing. In more leisurely conperiod is allotted. He keeps a folder of ferences, the director can make use of each student'swork, to gain an overview reading and telling exercises which allow of the semesterand make visible the pro- the student to discover and recognize his cess, the progress,the weakness,and the continuing problems. Let the student breakthroughsthat have occurredfor the read aloud his own work to the director student. Ordinarily, he finds it is better in the conference, and he will probably to refrain from making notations on his recognize some breakthrough moment in students' papers, since written comments a piece in his folder. Then he may embark from the teacher are traditionally re- on his own solutions. Sometimes the diceived in a context of negative criticism, rector may point out things to him. and are therefore unproductive. When he The director can ask students to read does jot notes on student papers, it is aloud from their notebooks to him in a only to remind himself of something he conference, or to the workshop. If the wants to say to the student, and he is language on the page is stiff, or the sencareful to let the student know this. tence construction awkward, or if things



(objects) seem to be missing from the piece, he can say, "Tell me what is happening here." In conversation the student invariably answers in words and constructions that are natural to him, usually with a commensurate increase in perception and clarity. This is the director's chance to suggest, "Why don't you say it that way here, too?" as he points to the page of writing. Or he may ask, "What is the image here?" Frequently this question elicits whole portions of the movement that were left out of the writing, but which may now be incorporated in the rewriting, or retelling. We need to understand, because it is demonstrable, that the writer's unfaltering voice and feeling of telling his strong perceptions are just as necessary to exposition, argumentation, and observation, as they are to poetry or story. Rewriting of expository forms may be handled in much the same way. Rewriting is not only a necessary process, it is part of the total process of the act of writing. In rewriting, or retelling, the student freshly perceives, experiences, reflects upon, and weighs the events on the page until the story emerges in all its strength and fullness of movement and relationships, and the final copy is done. The director occasionally asks students to retell one of their images or events in the oral tellings in the semicircle. The increase in perception is often dramatic. Story Workshop stresses the value and necessity of the rewriting process. It demands the best from each student at that moment in the development of the student's ability. It calls forth full development at every level of capability. This demand is expressed through the director. Possibly for the first time in their lives, some of the verbally gifted students will have demands placed upon them which are commensurate with their

abilities. The student has another chance to view writing as process when work of other students in the semicircle is read aloud, by the director and by other students. The director does not announce the name of the writer before the reading, and when the piece is finished, he asks, "Whose voice is that?" The students learn to recognize individual writing/ telling voices, and to make the connection between the way an individual tells aloud in the semicircle and the way he writes. They will gain an experiential knowledge that it is the same voice. When the director has finished reading a piece of student work, several heads may turn toward a particular area of the semicircle. Students do this almost unconsciously, before they have consciously begun to work on the problem of voice recognition. Their ears have simply been reminded of that portion of the semicircle where the writer of that piece customarily sits and tells. Someone will point across the semicircle and say, "I know it's over there!" This often happens on the first reading of a student's work, making plain that the identification is based on the voice connection between the spoken and written tellings. It will happen in different ways with other groups and directors. Voice identification is not based on habitual subject matter, though the students will make many wrong guesses through a dependency on content until they learn that content can be a distraction from searching out a voice. There may also be students who habitually write about the same subject matter. Students come to identify the voices of their fellow students accurately and naturally. "He talks like that," they will say, or, "I could hear Wanda's voice running under the words while she was reading

Story Workshopas a Method of Teaching Writing 159 his story . . . was that weird!" Here the

listener refers to the truly remarkable experience of hearing the voice of the reader merging with the voice of the writer. Sometimes the semicircle will be annoyed when the director breaks the profound and moving silence that follows the reading of a fine piece of writing merely to raise the theoretical question of voice identification. Someone will finally sigh, "Nobody but Joe could have written that story," and it will be a statement, not a guess.

Style In the workshop context "voice," or the whole person, is seen as an extension of speech, as an extension of the body. "Style," then, is the full and even pointed development, the full flowering, of the person's own voice. It is not something which he may acquire solely by exterior means, as some systems of teaching rhetoric imply. When the director coaches, "Listen to your voice," he means, Listen for your voice, discover your voice and its potential for expressing perception, believe your voice. . . . Immediately the presence of the event and sharpness of its telling are increased. When voice gives fully the moment of perception at the moment of writing, it gives the story its authority; it makes the listener or reader see and believe. It both gives perception and compels belief. A student in my semicircle once said in completing an evaluation questionnaire, "I like myself better now that I hear my voice in my own stories." Getting to know one's own voice is as health-giving as getting acquainted with one's own body. The vitality released in the recognition of voice flows powerfully back into the student's writing.


Normally each workshop session ends with the recall. There are two major kinds of recall: the verbatim recall, an ever-sharpening process of memory and selection tending ultimately to re-create the verbatim image, and the type of recall which is used directly after a powerful reading of a story such as Rilke's "Gynm Period." Here the director will use the recall to trigger more telling and writing from the student's experience and imagination. "What does that remind you of?" "Let it trigger something." The tellings or writings which result are given in present tense. There is a third kind of recall that is occasionally useful and exciting. We can call it Creative Recall. It gives a startling and sometimes effective emphasis to the value and power of imaginative play. In this exercise the student recalls something told or written and retells it, sometimes greatly or wildly different, as his own. Sometimes he finds different nuances, or tells it from a different point of view. This kind of recall should be used sparingly, usually when the workshop feels stiff or at a low ebb of energy. The director coaches the verbatim recall with "See it now,"-"Let it happen the relationships of the now!"-"Let people in the story and the feeling of its movement be present in your voice as you recall any moment of it." Unless the director's demand says otherwise, students, especially in beginning workshops, have a tendency because of their prior training to summarize-tell a synopsis of an entire story-rather than to give a vivid moment as it "happens now!" Through the recall they come to see that the imaginative event, told with full perception and the voice that gives the movement and relationships of the story,



happens afresh, over and over. It can be sustained over time as long as there is human voice and perception to tell it. The same event is received again and again with new pleasure as long as the teller is truly perceiving the event. Here, as in any other moment of the workshop session, the physical ease and confidence of the director in front of the workshop is important to the students' feeling of a depth of acceptance. For the students also a sense of having free physical space is very important, in the recalling or during any kind of response, reading, or telling. The director should adjust physical barriers, such as desk seats, to minimize tendencies to lean on or hide behind objects. Sometimes having an object such as a coffee table between the director and the workshop helps the feeling of free space and distance. That is, an object that you can't lean on. The director must make clear, many times and in many sessions, that the person who is recalling an image is not being repetitious and cannot bore the rest of the semicircle if he actually sees again

and tells the image. Directors and students come to understand that the Workshop Recall is one of the richest and often one of the most relaxing moments in the workshop session. Then the pleasure and good feeling and realization and reinforcement of having experienced a great deal, and of having enjoyed a great deal together, will be at its highest. The director and his semicircle will feel a greater unity during the closing recall than at any other time. All subject areas can use the universal principles of learning made available through Story Workshop: curiosity, desire, and clear, sensitive perception. All learning experiences are enhanced by the process of a guided self-discovery of the principles of writing and telling, and the reinforcement of perceptual experience through the use of a selective Recall.3

3A student response to the Story Workshop method, "You Must Begin at Zero: Story Workshop," by Patricia Stoll, will appear in the December 1973issue of CE.

Story Workshop as a Method of Teaching Writing  

This essay, written by Betty Shiflett, first appeared in College English, volume 35, number 2.

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