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Preface

Preface

In November 1999, Paul Becker of Addison-Wesley approached me at a conference in Denver and told me I was the perfect person to write a book on the writers' workshop. I thought he was nuts. He thought I was nuts back. We were both right. He was thinking of a book only for the software world—a primer on the writers' workshop as I had introduced it there. I was thinking of a book for both software people and “real” writers. I was sure there were plenty of books about the writers' workshop: There are books about every aspect of writing except maybe how to sharpen pencils. But not so—I couldn't find much that talked about the writers' workshop and how it worked.[1]

I told him to forget it anyway.

He emailed me a few times.

Forget it.

After the third or fourth email, I was starting to believe it might be fun since I had been thinking about how to address both audiences at once. I finally agreed.

But I missed all his deadlines, and the draft I sent him in July 2001 was OK, but minimal. We had agreed on a short book, but I had sent him a chapbook.

Then I asked the two writing communities I am in—the alumni of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers and the design patterns community—to tell me what they knew about the writers' workshop, and I was hit by a tsunami of stories, advice, and ideas. Many of them were so good that I left them mostly in their words. It's part of the writers' tradition of stealing (but I did ask if it was OK).

Writing a book on writers' workshop brings one dangerously close to the possibility of writing about writing and creativity in general. There are already many books on those two topics. I am an expert in neither, certainly not as measured by education and research. I am a practitioner of both, though, and I've approached this book from the outlook of a simple laborer in those areas. There are theories of learning, ideas developed by composition theorists—I could have looked into how theories of creativity and selfhood play into the workshop, or how to apply stage-development theory and philosophy to the problem of how to help a writer become autonomous. I could have delved more deeply into cultural, racial, and gender issues in the workshop. These would be good things to do, but they are not the good things I am able to do well.

I know what it feels like to try to learn how to write, how to be a musician, how to create new ideas. Not being blessed with much talent to begin with, I think I've made do with what I was given well enough to be proud of it. And to think I have something to share about the road I took.

I don't know if this book will be useful for you, but I hope it will be. I can tell you I had a great good time writing it, and sometimes—but not now—I wished I never had to stop.

—rpg
Redwood City
2002

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