Whitney Otto says that the most important thing she provides her students isn’t a road map for writing a novel – it’s time, focus, and a room full of energetic and considerate readers.
As the instructor of WORKSHOP 8 Otto is able to give her students even more time. “I tell them they might not get through a first draft, but they’ll get enough of a book going that they’ll start to see how it hangs together. They’ll have readers that are familiar, and they’ll have a sense of continuity.”
“We talk about process, pacing and revision – elements of fiction and nonfiction. Of course there’s no rules in writing, just guidelines.”
After teaching several shorter workshops, Otto came to Attic President David Biespiel with an idea. “I’m a long form writer,” says Otto, who has written both novels and books of essays. “The problem with short form workshops is that they really serve short story writers or essayists, not novelists or memoirists. So I wondered – how can we create something to support these writers?”
So WORKSHOP 8 was born. Each year, eight writers are selected who are ready to write a novel or memoir or collection (essays or short stories). Students come into the group with a full draft, or a partial draft, or just an idea that they’re ready to make into a manuscript. The workshop meets January through June before breaking for a summer of concentrated writing, and resumes in the fall, September through November. Building in a summer break allows the writer to write at his or her own pace while processing the discussion from workshop.
Students in WORKSHOP 8 include memorists, novelists, essay writers, and short story writers. Otto says that having a mix of genres creates a more fleshed out learning experience for everyone. It also shows what the similarities in genre are, and what the differences are, and what pleasures and challenges exist in both.
What sets WORKSHOP 8 apart from a traditional creative writing course is the sense of comradery students develop. The small, tight-knit cohorts become deeply acquainted with each other's work, and often continue workshopping informally during the summer break and beyond. “I always hope that they do bond, and that they create a writing group together that continues after WORKSHOP 8 has finished.”
Besides writing and reading, students in Workshop 8 also examine published works, craft informal reports about their favorite authors, and think critically about their own writing process. “There’s a real shift that happens where they start to realize that unglamorous parts of writing, like pacing or revision, are so important. They’re the everything part of writing.”
In addition to WORKSHOP 8, Otto is also teaching a flash fiction workshop in January. “Students will be writing flash fiction portraits of people in their lives. I also want them to be close observers of the people around them-- people they see at the market all the time, or a next door neighbor, or someone they know well."
"Hopefully by the end students will have a sense of the people they've observed. I want them to really think about what it means to have another life and to represent it."
Whitney Otto’s Observation and Locating the Telling Detail Workshop begins January 14th at the Attic. Applications for WORKSHOP 8 will open again in the fall of 2019.