Tuesday, September 15, 2009


by Christopher Cocca

I had my first fiction workshop (Ann Hood’s) at The New School last night. We read, ahead of time, stories from three students and discussed them at length after taking care of first-meeting administrative details. I handed in a story, a new revision of The Shadow Line, to be workshopped next week.

Obviously, the idea here is for us to become better writers through the process of having our stories discussed and being told what’s confusing, what’s overdone, what’s clear, controlled, effective, what bad grammar we’re able to see in the work of others but are blinded to in our own, how what others think we’ve done differs from what we think we’ve done or are trying to do. As helpful as this will be, I think this is also about becoming a better reader. The more imperfect work we read (alongside the renowned work from our prose lit classes), the more practice we get at understanding, in very general terms, the kinds of things we might be doing in our own (and certainly imperfect) work without knowing it.

Some notes I took during class:

Revision is literally seeing your work again (via Joseph Conrad)
It can always be fixed (via Ann Hood)
Anybody can write stories but only writers can revise them (via Ann Hood)
For short fiction, everyone important should be introduced by the end of the first page.I think that’s a good general rule, especially for beginners.
Rather than frame a story, think in terms of containing it (that is, temporally: a weekend, a year, an event, etc). This will help keep things tight and moving.
Avoid present participles. (This reminds me of my adverb ban).

I really enjoyed this class and I am looking foward to the rest of the semester.


  1. Those are great notes, and some I wish I had when I was writing more fiction. I like the idea of "containing" a story, and I especially like having important info within the first page of a short story. Good, good stuff.

    You make a good point about becoming a better reader through these workshops. You're right! It's hard to be a lazy reader and keep up, so multiple readings and lots of notes are helpful. I'm learning to be more disciplined, which is hard getting used to. It was easy for me to coast in undergrad, but now I've got to take things seriously!

    Sounds like you're off to a great start. Can't wait to hear more from you!

  2. Thanks for sharing your notes, they were great! I like what you had to say about it really being about becoming a better reader. If I could turn the same eyes on my work that I use to read other's works, my writing would probably go a long way. I'm going to keep being a better reader in mind.

  3. Excellent point about workshop making us better readers. That is definitely proving to be the case for me in my poetry workshop as well.

  4. Just curious as to why writers should avoid present participles?

  5. My favorite is "Anybody can write stories but only writers can revise them (via Ann Hood)" which I think could apply to all genres!

    And I agree, I became a much better reader after the MFA :)


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