How to Run Your Own Generative Writing Workshop

And what the heck does "generative" mean anyway?

Well, folks, Andrés Cruciani of Toho Publishing here, and we're counting down to our first generative writing workshop in Philadelphia (it's T minus 6 hours as of the time of this post). So I thought I'd write about just what the heck a "generative" writing workshop is and how it will run. If you're interested in running a writing workshop of your own, feel free to use what's below as guidelines for your shop. Or contact for us for more insight.

What do you mean by "generative"?

Well, it means that we will generate writing during the shop. So, each class we'll be writing based on certain prompts. From this type of prompt writing, we will eventually build bigger pieces. This style of shop is based on Marie Ponsot's and Rosemary Deen's model (described in detail in their book Beat Not the Poor Desk).

Ok, so you write for a while. Then what?

After we've written for a bit, we will then read our work aloud. This practice gets us in the habit of sharing our writing. Second, when we read aloud, we will notice things that we might not have otherwise (oh, that word's weird there ... oops, I didn't mean that ... etc.). And third ...

The class will culminate with a journal. This is the latest cover of a journal I'm head editor of.

What happens after people have read their work?

Well, this is one of the interesting parts. While people read, we listen. We do not take notes. All we do is listen. Then we write down observations about what we heard. Observations are not inferences—we are not judging anything or drawing any type of conclusion. Observations are things that no one can deny, things like: "You wrote about colors a lot. Red in particular." "You wrote in the third person." "You began with a description of a mountain and then moved into dialogue." Through simple observation, the writer learns what stands out in people's minds. The listener learns to, well, listen.

Observations are concrete—something you can see that we can all see. — Marie Ponsot & Rosemary Deen

And then what?

Eventually we move to inferences—conclusions drawn from undeniable observations. But there's no rush to get there. Listening is hard enough.

Do you do anything else?

What's described above is the bulk of what we do: we write, we read, and we listen. But every class, we will also have a reading. The reading will either teach craft—like on how to write a first draft (we'll be reading from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird today about exactly that)—or the reading will be an example of craft—like the first paragraph from Cormac McCarthy's Outer Dark as an example of setting.

Is that it?



Ok, well, there's one more thing. We're running this 1.5 hour workshop for 6 weeks. The class will culminate with a physical journal to which, hopefully, each member will contribute. We will also be soliciting a few outside entries as well.

But all that seems... well ... really simple.