Residency – Day 4

A late night led to a tiring day. I think I’m coming down with a bit of a cold so this entry will be brief.

One of the most important components of the Residency is the writing workshop. Each student submits work prior to the Residency and receives the work of those assigned to their group– in my group there are 8 writers, each of us sending in a “worksheet” of 15 pages. We are expected to have read and thoughtfully critiqued each piece before the Residency begins. I was very excited for this year’s workshop because of the uniform quality of the work I received.

The workshops are led by two or more faculty, sometimes working in teams but more often in rotation. Because we meet for only ten days twice a year, I find that the workshops tend to explore broader aspects of craft and technique as opposed to line by line analysis. This approach is more effective because, in the six months when we must write on our own, universal insights into craft are of greater use than analysis tailored to a single piece of writing.

I’ve heard that other writing workshops, especially in traditional University programs, are often competitive and bruising. The experience at Pacific has been quite different– since there is none of the usual jockeying for the attention of the faculty (the low-residency model eliminating such favoritism), my fellow students are much more focused on improving their  work and the work of their peers.

More importantly, the faculty have consistently proven to be interested in their students’ development as writers and it seems that an atmosphere of genuine engagement has been cultivated by the Pacific faculty. This attitude is reflected in the workshops. And while some faculty have proven to be more effective than others in leading the workshops, in general, the experience of analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of widely divergent writing styles has been very useful in developing my own work.

There are shortcomings to the workshop– some students are less engaged than others and there are often different aspects of craft that each student wants addressed. The brevity of our workshops (in terms of days we meet per year) offers little chance to correct these deficiencies before the Residency ends. Some students form groups that meet during the semester or exchange work over the Internet, but the sense of isolation between Residencies makes the Pacific low-res model inappropriate for those who need to be surrounded by a physically-present community to support their work.

More tomorrow, now it’s off to bed for an early night.

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