A Chat with Catapult Online Instructor Justin Taylor
“A workshop opens your eyes to what’s been done. You never know what’s going to be the thing that lights someone up.”
FlingsEverything Here is the Best Thing EverThe Gospel of Anarchyis second online Fiction Writing Workshop for Catapult starts tomorrow. Last week we chatted by phone about his new course, his approach to teaching, and what students can expect if they sign up for one of his online workshops.
—you can highlight and comment on specific phrases or sentences. Writing workshops are supposed to teach you how to be a stronger editor and critic—that’s 90% of the class, really, when your own pieces aren’t being workshopped. By developing such a strong platform and making that central to the online course experience, Catapult’s done a great service to its students. The other thing that’s nice about Catapult’s online class chat sessions in particular is having the complete archive of the workshop discussion. If you want to go back and see exactly what was said about one of your pieces, you can easily find and reread the entire log.
The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories—on topics such as openings, making the most of your secondary characters, point of view and themes, and flash and experimental fiction—but they’re presented as close readings of the stories from Marcus’s book.
—the only stipulation I make is not to start with just “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” I want to know what questions a story provokes, where the readers feel its energy is. The discussion will build itself from there, and I’ll moderate or redirect as needed. Right before the time is up, I’ll usually try to synthesize everything we heard in the workshop and offer my own thoughts, including one or two concrete ideas toward revision. That way the student comes away with some things to work on if they want to revise.
——ensuring they are ready for the workshop.
——it’s community, it’s exchange, it’s fellowship. Writing is a lonely enterprise, but it has to enter the world at some point. The writing workshop, for all its imperfections, is maybe the best way we’ve come up with to help facilitate that transition.
—I teach stories I think I know by heart, and invariably, someone tells me something I didn’t know before. It keeps me on my toes.
—and the “I think” is really important. In terms of fiction, there are traditions and structures, a history that is very much knowable and teachable. My argument about why, say, Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf” is a brilliant story may not ultimately convince you that I’m right, but you’ll learn how the story works and why it succeeds so powerfully on its own terms. You’ll learn something about O’Connor, about me, and about your own taste and ambitions for your own work. Disagreement is fruitful!