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Writing workshops provide support for academic authors

Holding writing workshops is an effective way to support, celebrate and teach writing. That’s what Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Literacy and Inclusion at Minnesota State University, Mankato, discovered when he ran a Writer’s Workshop (WW) on campus aimed at professors.

“I’ve looked at a lot of research that demonstrates the best way to teach writing is the process approach. WW is a familiar concept used by many elementary and middle school teachers,” Johnson said. “Many professors who wanted to write had no idea about the process of writing a journal article or book prospectus.”

The workshop achieved the goal of teaching professors the process of putting together a scholarly article or book prospectus. The group met every two weeks for 60 to 90 minutes. At the beginning of each session, participants checked in to report on their progress and to set goals for the next workshop. “This process was very helpful in getting people published,” Johnson said. “Two books that I know of and several articles came out of this workshop.”

On the downside, Johnson discovered that more people like the concept of writing than the actual writing. “They like to talk, but not do,” he said. “Writing is a matter of putting your butt in the chair every day. Those that really wanted to write were very successful.”

Along with reporting progress and setting goals, another important part of WW was the writing circles, where the members met in groups of four. Each participant was given seven minutes to read a paper and write comments or feedback. At the sound of a bell, members passed the paper to their right and did the same with the next paper.

“After the papers had made their way around the circle, the author would get his or her paper back with a lot of different perspectives and comments,” Johnson said. “The small groups would then talk about the papers, give feedback and ask questions.”

For your WW to be successful, keep the group simple, Johnson said. “Stay out of the way. You won’t help people write by speaking at them,” he said. “They learn to write by getting feedback on their manuscripts, such as through the writing circles.”

Johnson ran the WW for two years. “I provided a service to those who wanted it,” he said. “It did take time and energy, both of which are very precious commodities to a writer/professor. I stopped because I wanted to focus more on my own writing.”