How to Run a Fiction Writers' Workshop
Suggested grade level(s): Junior High - Senior High

created by Mary Hogan

Are you ready for a professional writing session? In this room, with the exception of drinking coffee and staring into space, we’re going to do what every professional writer does every day.

First, three ground rules:

  1. I understand that all of you have works-in-progress (writing samples). Nobody has to read aloud if they don’t want to. You’re safe in this room. You’re not going to be called on unless you’re willing to share your work.
  2. Everything you write in this room has to be totally honest. No baloney allowed. Tell your truth through your characters. Even if it’s embarrassing or causes your parents to say, “I can’t believe you wrote that!”
  3. All critiques will be delivered in a professional way—something writers call a “Poop Sandwich” (though we use another word for “poop”). What this means is: Each criticism is sandwiched between two positives. Example: “Your voice is unique and exciting. I got a little lost at the beginning in all the description. But, by the end, I was really eager to find out what happens next.”

Your ability to master the Poop Sandwich will hold you in good stead your whole life.

Okay, everybody take out a paper and a pen. For the next three minutes, I want you to write down everything that comes into your head. Every. Single. Thought. Even if it’s “This is so stupid” or “I wish I hadn’t eaten a burrito for breakfast.” Write down anything and everything that comes into your mind. Nobody is going to read this. You can eat it when you’re done. But this is how professional writers begin their day. It’s how you clear your head of all the noise and get ready to work. So, ready...GO.

Pens down. Go ahead and eat your pages if you like.

Now that we’re ready to work, let’s get down to business. In this workshop, we’re going to work on what I believe are the three most important parts of any good story: Desire, detail, and movement.

With these three points in mind, who would like to read the first couple of paragraphs of their work?

Desire? Detail? Movement?


The last part of this workshop is the biggest part of every professional’s life: Rewriting. Every writer rewrites constantly. My husband is an actor, and he’s in a play in New York. The playwright was rewriting during rehearsal. I know everyone hates to rewrite, but we’re professionals today, and that’s what pros do.

So, for the next ten minutes or so, I want you to rewrite the beginnings of your stories with desire, detail and movement in mind. If the beginning is already perfect, move on to the middle.


Who wants to read their rewrite?


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