Cover image for Beyond the writers' workshop : new ways to write creative nonfiction
Beyond the writers' workshop : new ways to write creative nonfiction
Bly, Carol.
Personal Author:
First Anchor Books edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Anchor Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 376 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1404 .B5896 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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An innovative new approach to teaching and writing creative nonfiction from veteran teacher and critically acclaimed author Carol Bly.

Teachers and writers everywhere are facing the limits imposed by the prevailing models of teaching: community or MFA "workshops" or, at the high-school level, "peer review." In Beyond the Writers' Workshop Carol Bly presents an alternative. She believes that
workshopping's tendency to engage in wry scorn and pay exaggerated attention to technical details, causes apprentice writers, consciously or unconsciously, to modify their most passionate work.

Inspired by a philosophy of individuality and moral rigor, Bly combines ideas and techniques from social work, psychotherapy, and neuroscience with the traditional teaching of fresh metaphor, salient dialogue, lively pace, and analysis of other literary work in her pioneering new approach. She also includes exercises and examples in an extensive practical appendix.

Author Notes

Carol Bly is the author of many books, including the story collection "My Lord Bag of Rice", the essay collection "Letters from the Country", & a book about writing short fiction, "The Passionate, Accurate Story". Bly currently teaches Ethics-in-Literature at the University of Minnesota. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Plenty of how-to-write-creative-nonfiction books address technique, but accomplished writer Bly takes technique to a level well beyond the usual plot, scene, character, and dialogue. She applies the philosophical theory of stage development to the writing process and shows writers how to use a technique she calls empathic inquiry as a means to discover their own deeper truths and to dislodge writing blocks. Her approach helps writers discover patterns of thinking that may include both passion and ambivalence about a single subject and to use these complex connections to transform early drafts into deeper and more compelling works. In fact, it's when writers address their often-contradictory attitudes and minute-by-minute changes in thinking to create surprising pairings that they create the stuff of which literature is made. Bly's pointed insights into the writer's obligation to tell the truth are a welcome addition to an often-tired discussion. Appendixes include insightful writing exercises and an eclectic array of helpful strategies, formats, and agendas. --Suzanne Young

Library Journal Review

Prolific author Bly (The Passionate, Accurate Story; My Lord Bag of Rice), who teaches ethics-in-literature at the University of Minnesota, has written a useful analysis of the existing archetypes of creative writing programs. Bly looks at the many built-in problems of writing workshops whose dogmatic emphasis of techniques and neglect of ideas often prevent writers from creating their most passionate work. But Bly goes further than merely pinpointing the problems of the existing creative writing programs: this revealing study is replete with constructive advice on how to write meaningful nonfiction by incorporating techniques from psychotherapy and neuroscience. Bly also advocates giving school students, the poor, and the have-nots of society a forum through writing that will let them express what moves them. She ends the book with 15 writing exercises, usage sheets, and sample writing class agendas. Most suitable for writing teachers looking for something new to spark their students, this manual is recommended for all academic and large public libraries. Lisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xvii
Chapter 1 Taking on Three Demanding Situations Firstp. 3
Cultural Deprivationp. 4
The New, Nontraditional Mission of Present-Day Writersp. 9
Eight Elements of Bad or Scanty Teaching of Creative Writingp. 15
Chapter 2 A Fundamental Mistake in How We Learn to Write: Skipping the Long Middle Stage of Writingp. 33
The Three Stages of Writing a Manuscriptp. 37
Chapter 3 Using Empathic Questioning to Deepen Your First Draftp. 46
Empathic Inquiryp. 48
Some Final Thoughtsp. 58
Chapter 4 How Stage-Development Philosophy Serves Writersp. 59
A Basic Overview of Stage-Development Theoryp. 59
Assumptions of Stage-Development Theoryp. 65
How Two Authors Offer Us Stage Philosophies That Are Especially Pertinent to Writersp. 70
Chapter 5 We Have Pushed Off from the Animal Kingdom for Good: Good News for Writers from Neuroscientistsp. 76
Reentry and Literary Endeavorp. 82
Becoming a Generalistp. 92
The Love of Thinkingp. 94
Chapter 6 Literary Fixesp. 100
Driving the Exposition Inwardp. 101
Raising the Tonep. 109
Changing Statement to Theater (Showing, not Telling)p. 111
Combating Lying and Cowardicep. 113
Removing Self-Referencesp. 116
Pushing Off from Mindless Male Realism and Mindless Female Realismp. 119
Checking for the Skinflint Syndrome and Enhancing Your Manuscript as a Gift to the Readerp. 121
Asking, for a Last Time, What Is Still Missing from This Manuscript?p. 122
Small Language Fixes That Help Remove Humbugp. 122
Starting Sentences with Dependent Clausesp. 126
Getting Rid of We, Everybody, and Allp. 127
Chapter 7 Seven General Issues in Teaching Creative Writingp. 129
Writing Literature Can Be Taughtp. 129
Protecting Student Writers from the U.S.A. Junk Culturep. 133
Curing Writers of the Bad Habit of Perseveratingp. 139
Convincing Writers that Surprise Is the Inevitable, Eternal Principle of Literaturep. 140
Practicing Professional Reticencep. 142
Being Aware of Bullyingp. 143
Making the Classroom One of the Great Places on Earthp. 145
Chapter 8 Teaching Elementary School Children to Writep. 148
Ways to Use the Appendix When Working with Childrenp. 148
No Children's Writing Should Ever Be Subjected to Peer Reviewp. 155
Validating the Serious as Well as the Fun-Loving Spirits of Childrenp. 157
Offering Some Comment for Every Piece of Creative Writing a Child Doesp. 160
Giving a Child Two Opportunities to Answer a Questionp. 161
Teaching Children as Well as Ourselves the Psychological Skills that Protect a Person's Personality from Group Bullying or from Unfair Pressure by People in Authorityp. 162
Asking Children to Memorize One Hundred Stories by the Age of Eighteenp. 163
Chapter 9 Helping People in Middle and High School Learn to Writep. 171
Adolescents and Monoculturep. 171
Using the Appendix of This Book with Adolescent Peoplep. 173
No Peer Reviewing of Manuscriptsp. 178
No Teaching of Literary Techniquesp. 179
No Asking for Rough Drafts of Creative Writingp. 182
Never Failing to Comment on the Core Content of Students' Papersp. 183
Teaching Adolescent Writers to Continue Memorizing Stories, if They Started in Elementary School, and to Add Poemsp. 184
An Ethics Code for Teachers of Adolescentsp. 184
Chapter 10 Helping College Students and M.F.A. Candidates to Writep. 185
Leaving Behind the Natural but Useless Attitudes Common to Any Enclave of Creative Writersp. 185
Ways to Help College- and Graduate-Level Writers Experience a Literary Change of Heartp. 206
Chapter 11 Teaching at Writers' Conferences, Community Retreats, and Summer Short Coursesp. 217
What These Courses Are, and the Burgeoning Population Who Use Themp. 217
Three Kinds of Populations We Don't Serve Well Enough So Farp. 222
Chapter 12 Some Issues of Aesthetics and Ethics of Writing Literaturep. 235
Some Psychological Dynamics of Aesthetics and Ethicsp. 235
Distinguishing Hack Work from Literary Artificep. 246
Normalized Indifference Is Our Comfortable Stance on Any Subject until Something Jars Usp. 247
How the Old, Familiar Dynamic Called Pain Avoidance Affects Creative Nonfictionp. 254
Falsifying What Could Otherwise Be Interesting Psychological Evidence about Homo Sapiens in One or Another Settingp. 261
Hatred of Literature by Those Left Out of It and Sometimes by Those of Us Who Participate in Itp. 267
A Psychological Tool for Ethically Minded Writersp. 272
Writing Creative Nonfiction for the 400,000p. 274
Appendix I. Fifteen Writing Exercisesp. 279
Four Exercises about Background or Place
1. Writing without Cliches about a Beautiful Placep. 281
2. Ugly Place, Good Event: Ugly Event, Good Placep. 283
3. Pathetically Shallow Use of Places Once Full of Serious Enterprisep. 284
4. Paying Respectful Attention to Background Settingsp. 286
Easy Exercises
5. Good and Terrible Qualities in Human Nature--An Exercise for People over the Age of Fourteenp. 288
6. Ignatow Poem Exercisep. 289
7. A Catty Vignettep. 292
8. An Essay Pot--A Group Talking Exercisep. 295
9. Writing about Workp. 297
Elegant Exercises
10. Attending to Other--Specifically Attending to Relatives, Nonhuman Creatures, or Plantsp. 301
11. Increasing One's Affection for Utterly Ordinary Peoplep. 303
12. A Writing Exercise for Extrovertsp. 306
13. An Irritating Person Exercisep. 309
14. A Nearly Impossible Writing Exercisep. 311
15. The Andover Format: Writing Your Life at Two Levels--One the Usual Sort of Memoir, and the Other Secret and Profoundp. 315
Appendix II. Usage Sheetsp. 322
Appendix III. Abbreviations and Notes for Referencing Margin Comment on Students' Papersp. 328
Appendix IV. Formats and Strategiesp. 330
A Format for Writing an Essayp. 329
The Vertical-Line Way of Taking Notesp. 331
Analyzing a Literary Work of Artp. 332
Appendix V. A List of Useful Sentences for Writers in a Tight Spotp. 335
Appendix VI. Two Examples of Class Agendas for M.F.A. Studentsp. 340
Appendix VII. The Robertson-Bly Ethics Code for Teaching Writing to Middle and High School Studentsp. 349
Endnotesp. 355
A Reading Listp. 361
Indexp. 363
Permissions Acknowledgmentsp. 373