Writing Alone and with Others: Basic Principles of a Healthy Workshop (Pat Schneider)

The book Writing Alone and with Others: Basic Principles of a Healthy Workshop has established guiding principles for writing workshops and classes around the world for years. The author, Pat Schneider, worked directly with Peter Elbow, whose books contain some of the foundational practices Julie incorporated into Brave Writer. The principles can help us if we work with a group of young writers in a co-op or writing group, but they can also work at home, with a parent and one or more children or teens. 

We have included an excerpt from the book as a PDF as part of this lesson in our Master Class.

In the excerpt, Schneider tells stories of how writing had been previously "shut down" in three specific people who came to her wanting to write. Many of us can think back to incidents when we were encouraged or discouraged from writing. Teachers, parents or mentors may have had the best intentions to help us become better writers, yet their instruction or their approach had a negative impact: we wrote less, more reluctantly, or with worry about mechanics that squeezed life out of our writing. 

Some of us may have had more positive experiences, with teachers who made it safe for us to take writing risks or who helped us understand that revision and editing could be separate steps from initial writing. They may have shown us techniques that loosened our tongues and our pens and our keyboards, helping us get words out there. 

We can use our own learning-to-write memories to help us think about providing an encouraging and safe writing environment for our kids and teens.

Julie's suggestion that we focus on our children's strengths is fully expressed in the book. Schneider quotes Julia Cameron: “As a writing teacher, it is my experience that if I praise a student’s strengths, the weaknesses eventually fall away. If I focus on a weakness, the strengths, too, may wobble and even vanish" (193). Schneider explains that when people’s writing is suppressed, judged negatively, or evaluated too early in the writing process, writers can develop internal perceptions that their writing is not worthwhile or that they're not capable of writing well.

Schneider gives us two good lists in this chapter: "Five Essential Affirmations" and "12 Basic Principles for a Healthy Workshop." Read and consider how these can apply in a home setting. You could print these lists and use them to remind yourself how to encourage your kids to think like writers. The affirmations could be your own copywork in your Scatterbook™. 

Encouraging writing by thinking like a writing coach can, in turn, help your child think like a writer. That will help reluctant writers as well as kids and teens who enjoy writing and want to do more.

Thoughts to Ponder

  • Do we have stories about our own writing getting shut down or supported? Do our children have previous experience with writing being shut down or supported? 
  • How can we make writing “safe” for our kids, so they aren't reluctant because of judgment or their own feeling they can’t trust their ability? 
  • What is the impact or potential effect of having the leader, in our case, the homeschooling parent, write at the same time as the participants—our children? 
  • How are writing prompts valuable? (The Brave Writer blog is loaded with writing prompts!)
  • Schneider says many people intuitively know how to talk to children about their artwork in a way that is encouraging and interested rather than critical. How can we apply this to talking to children about their writing?


Download Writing Alone and With Others: Basic Principles of a Healthy Workshop - Pat Schneider

Posted August 19th, 2019
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