The reason I loved the first hour of Elisabeth Blair’s BWW Master Class, “Relish in the Wreck: The Joy of Revising Poetry,” is that it was packed with dozens of superb ideas and suggestions about specific tools writers can use to improve their poems. The well-prepared Power Point screen-shares were original and creative. One was an artistic mandala, all in words, with rays of ideas spreading outward from central concepts.
Perhaps there have been other BWW Master Classes I didn’t go to that I would have liked as well, but I have been to enough to know what doesn’t wow me. Before I get to that, I’ll confess this is an opinion article intended to provoke discussion among BWW Members about what we want from future Master Classes and other possible free workshops.
What I want from a Master Class is a lot of useful guidelines, ideas, recommendations, insights, and perhaps revelatory anecdotes from an expert, whether or not a published author. I want to learn things I didn’t know and be reminded of the importance of things I did know. I want to leave eager to apply what I have learned. If the Presenter provides a written summary for members after the Class, they get five extra gold stars. (Yes, Elisabeth did.)
Caution: my grouchy old man now appears! What I don’t really appreciate in a Master Class is a lot of time spent in writing to a prompt (even if it’s about a concept being presented) and then participants sharing what they’ve written and the Presenter commenting on it. In my opinion, and I realize most of you disagree, that’s a convenient way for a Presenter to run out the clock without having to prepare and present a boatload of secrets of how to become skilled and professional as writers. Clearly, they don’t want any more competition from us!
I have noticed that BWW writers are thrilled at the opportunity to write to a prompt, and I get it. Instead of having to take the Advanced Placement Final Exam, we’re being asked to write a brief story about “What I Did Last Summer.” I have been to scores of BWW workshops about Poetry, Fiction Books, and Short Fiction, and I have noticed hundreds of writers, all of whom on their own came up with creative topics to write about and who love writing. Then when offered a class in which they’re asked to pick a topic and write about it, they gush.
I agree that there is some benefit to applying a concept in practice writing; however, I propose that MC Presenters could hand out assignments to be written after the class by serious writers who want to learn how to apply the lessons offered. Or they could insist on more than two hours to offer all they have to teach us, including generative writing breaks.
What I saw in Elisabeth’s poetry revision class was a professional who knew her subject from years of searching and striving and was excited to share what she had learned with others at all levels of our own passion to grow as writers. Brava! Five gold stars!
Please be sure add your comments below on the thoughts you have about this and what we want future master classes to look like.