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Why You Should Try a Workshop Writing Class

With the Spring 2021 class list finally released, you may be looking for some fun classes to fill up credits or some easier courses to fill you Mason Core requirements. While I have you here, let me make a suggestion: English 396: Intro to Creative Writing. 

Is this a suggestion coming from someone majoring in the subject? Yes, but hear me out. I took my first workshop style class in high school, where my teacher would have us sit at the podium in the middle of the room and read aloud what we’d written for the week. Since it was a small high school in the south, we didn’t have specific classes for different types of writing. We wrote anything and everything when it came to forms of creative writing.

Every year people would drop the class after the teacher prefaced that you have to read every story and poem you write aloud. I was one of the reluctant few who stayed. Now mind you, I didn’t stay because I had a shred of confidence in myself or my writing. I stayed because I knew that if I really wanted to be a writer, this was the first step.

(Two of my best friends were also in the class but we don’t need to worry about that.)

Luckily for you, Intro to Creative Writing doesn’t run that way, but it’s not exactly a polar opposite. You still have to prepare yourself for the fact that roughly twenty of your peers are going to be reading and commenting on your stories. Once you face that fear, your confidence will start to flourish. 

The class involves writing 3-4 pieces throughout the semester covering each of the different fields of creative writing (poetry, prose and nonfiction). You upload your piece to a discussion board when it’s your week for workshop, everyone reads and comments on the story in their own time and everyone comes to class ready to workshop your story. 

So what happens in the workshop? 

It’s pretty simple really, everyone meets up either in the classroom or on Zoom and starts a student led discussion about what everyone thought was or wasn’t working in your story. Your professor is there to help guide the conversation in the right direction and ensure that there is only constructive criticism in the class. 

That can sound a little daunting at first, but it’s really easy to slip into the motions once your professor helps you get past the initial anxiety of other people reading your stories.

You might still be wondering why a class like Intro to Creative Writing even matters if you’re in a field like STEM. It’s a fair question to ask in all honesty. Whenever I answer this question, I have a very specific story I found in my sophomore year in mind.

In 2005, NPR highlighted a story about Joanne Greenberg, an anthropology and creative writing professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Her fiction workshop classes would fill up quickly despite the fact that the school focuses primarily on STEM related fields. The whole story really focuses on the creative brilliance that people can bring to a story even if they might be out of their comfort zone writing. 

STEM majors can contribute wildly different things to stories with the subjects they learn about for their majors and interests. NPR’s story has students reading excerpts of their stories and it honestly sounds like nothing I’ve ever read in a workshop style class before. It’s incredible to hear what other people can come up with when you’re so used to hearing the writing of other english and creative writing majors. 

These workshops also tend to create a sense of community in my experience. How someone writes and what they write about can tell a lot about them as a person, and telling someone that you enjoyed their story is the perfect icebreaker. A good majority of my best friends at Mason I met through the goofy and insane antics that take place in a workshop class. 

I’m an extremely introverted person in every sense of the phrase, but something about these classes brings something out of me that I can’t describe. I laugh harder in these classes than I have anywhere else at GMU, I create memories more vivid than any other in my workshop classes. These classes are a safe space of creativity and exploration that I think are beneficial to anyone in college. 

If you ever get a chance to take a workshop course, or need to cover your Mason Core arts requirement, take a leap and sign up for this course.

Jane Grosskopf

George Mason University '21

Jane Grosskopf is a senior at George Mason University majoring in creative writing with a double minor in Middle East studies and journalism. Outside of writing, Jane plays clarinet in the Green Machine Pep Band, and serves as Vice President of Membership for the Mu Omicron chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary music service fraternity.
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