Richard Harrison, a professor who teaches writing at Mount Royal, shared the concept of writing as community during the 2015 When Words Collide conference. (This is a process he’s participated in for over 20 years.)
Instead of the usual chairs in a row, participants form a circle. “This is a great first step in building community.”
“We are always writing for the community. Only some writing makes it to the proper audience – the work someone deems to be good enough. If we want someone to buy our book, we have to convince him it is good enough – that’s why we call it ‘goods.’ There is a large creative area where ‘good’ is premature.” Richard Harrison
Richard shared that Margaret Lawrence took him “under her wing.” She shared how many people encouraged her to write for Harlequin, but for her that would be writing ‘down.’ She encouraged him to always write the best he could.
Although everyone writes the best they can, they know their writing can be better. That’s where writing as community is helpful. It allows you to ask other people, “What’s this like?”
“Writing is getting someone to remember what you said.” Richard Harrison
Writing as Community Process
-Gather a group of people who want to learn to write better.
-Sit in a circle.
-Have each person open a blank piece of paper and write. Do not go back, do not cross out. This breaks down the barriers.
-Write for five minutes.
-At the end of five minutes, allow participants to read what they wrote. The only comment/feedback is, “Thank you!” This helps everyone feel accepted and starts building community.
-The next step is to allow participants to read and ask people to give feedback based on the six questions listed below. The questions are optional. Each reader gets to pick which questions he or she wants answered. The listeners only tell the writer what he or she wants to know. Remember that people grow in steps. In Writing as Community we want to help people move to the next step.
-Leave each member of the community to make his or her own choices about the piece(s) he or she writes. The workshop is NOT about editing; it is allowing the work to progress.
Six Questions for Writing as Community
1)What did you notice? (What you noticed is what you remember and can recite – what’s memorable. Your memory is your best editor. A story is shaped by the memory the way the water smoothes a river.)
2)What connections do you have with the elements you noticed in the story? (Some connections draw you away; other connections draw you further into the story.)
3)Do you have any questions?
4)Did you notice anything in terms of tone? What do you learn from that?
5)Do you agree or disagree? Why?
6)Where did you stop reading? (For this question you may want to hand copies out to each person and have them draw a solid blue line where they stop reading. If they have to stop and go back to re-read, have them draw a dotted blue line. This gives you clues on which areas of the writing need to be reworked.)
For more information:
- Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow
- Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process by Peter Elbow
- Reader Response Theory – literature is a tool by which children’s minds are shaped