The writing workshop begins with a mini-lesson of five to thirty minutes and continues with independent writing, during which time I circulate among writers and meet with individuals or small groups.
At any point during the writing workshop, students may share their written work in progress and receive constructive feedback from their peers and me.
The writing workshop may conclude with this oral student sharing of written work, with a group discussion of what writers accomplished or what problems emerged, with my observations, or with a follow-up to the mini-lesson.
The writing workshop is a quiet and productive period.
Writing is thinking so silence is needed to help all writers think and write well.
These days the biggest publishers—Harper Collins, Random House, Norton, and others—are seeking creative nonﬁction titles more vigorously than literary ﬁction and poetry.
Recent creative nonﬁction titles from major publishers on the best-seller lists include Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle.
Even small and academic (university) presses that previously would have published only books of regional interest, along with criticism and poetry, are actively seeking creative nonﬁction titles these days.
In the academic community generally, creative nonﬁction has become the popular way to write.
Through creative writing programs, students can earn undergraduate degrees, MFA degrees, and Ph Ds in creative nonﬁction—not only in the United States but in Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the world.
The banner of the magazine I’m proud to have founded and I continue to edit, Creative Nonﬁction, deﬁnes the genre simply, succinctly, and accurately as “true stories well told.” And that, in essence, is what creative nonﬁction is all about.
In some ways, creative nonﬁction is like jazz—it’s a rich mix of ﬂavors, ideas, and techniques, some of which are newly invented and others as old as writing itself.
Creative nonﬁction can be an essay, a journal article, a research paper, a memoir, or a poem; it can be personal or not, or it can be all of these.
The words “creative” and “nonﬁction” describe the form.
The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques ﬁction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonﬁction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner.
The goal is to make nonﬁction stories read like ﬁction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.
The word “creative” has been criticized in this context because some people have maintained that being creative means that you pretend or exaggerate or make up facts and embellish details. It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.
"Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there.
It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonﬁction: “You can’t make this stuff up!
” Creative nonﬁction has become the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities.
“The qualities of good writing are complex and nuanced.
But they can be named, and I’m convinced they can be taught.
Of all the arts, writing should be among the most democratic: all one needs is paper and a pen – and I would suggest, a teacher or two along the way who work to make the intangible tangible, so every student might know the joy of writing well.” This year’s writing instruction will focus on the pursuit of good writing, with explicit instruction to help students begin to master some of the complex and nuanced qualities of exceptional writing.
The goal is for students to improve their writing and simultaneously develop myriad approaches to writing that empower students to effectively evaluate and improve their own writing and thinking.
To this end, students will participate in writing workshops of at least forty-five minutes three to five times a week.
The only noise besides pencils moving across paper is the quiet talking that occurs during writing conferences.
During the writing workshop, students develop most of their own writing projects, even during genre studies, writing passionately about what matters most to them.
The writing workshop mini-lessons provide a writing course of study.
They draw on a combination of impromptu lessons based on student need and lessons that incorporate key writing instruction critical for every sixth grade student.
This year’s mini-lessons have been amassed from a wide variety of sources over the past two decades, but the core of most of the lessons has been informed by Nancie Atwell’s work with junior high school writers and generously shared in her books, developed by Lucy Calkins with her colleagues from the Reading and Writing Project, as well as the work of Old Adobe Union School District’s writing liaison group, with whom I worked to help enhance our program.