I taught week-long playwriting workshop at a school last month and at the end one of the teachers asked if I wanted the students to fill out a feedback form. The end of an intense week is not always the best time to ask me if I want to hear what people think of what I’m doing…..I am not above tears…..but I also know that feedback is the lifeblood of this kind of work. Plays do not exist in a vacuum and neither does teaching. Even if the feedback is not what you wanted to hear, it’s better to know and address that feedback than keep your head in the sand. My head in the sand. Have I mentioned feedback makes me nauseous?
The form itself was very, very casual. It had just two questions:
- Identify 2 things you learned about playwriting through this workshop.
- Is there anything you still find confusing?
I like these points. If what I’m doing isn’t hitting, I have to find a better way to explain myself. And it’s important to find out what has stuck with students. That is what they will take away from the experience. Here are some of the student answers to the first questions:
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Keep writing even if it sounds stupid.
- Warming up your brain is important.
- Don’t stop writing.
- Use the five senses.
- Importance of small details in characters.
- don’t stop, don’t hesitate, keep doing
- details build a rounded character
- Never stop writing even if it makes no sense.
- Describe the characters even in little bits
- conflict and character are most important aspects
- How important character is
- Don’t stop writing, keep going.
These really make me a proud mama. Further to what’s here, almost student mentioned how important it was to not stop writing, even when every instinct tells you to stop, and how important it is to work on character development. These are the kinds of details that make writers – I fully believe that the main difference between writers and non-writers is that non-writers stop immediately when their brain tells them what they are writing sucks. Writers know to just keep going. And I fully believe that well developed characters are the backbone of good plays.
In the confusing column there was an interesting mix. I’m not sure what students wrote down was what was still confusing to them, but more about their fears of writing in general.
- Not sure how to come up with character names.
- I am scared I won’t be able to do the same thing when there is no instructor.
- I think I am bad at using dialogue to advance a plot.
- When do I use music?
And that tells me how important it is to continue to be encouraging, to continue to give them feedback during exercises, to tell students they’re doing a good job. It’s not hard to do because for the most part they are. But they have to hear it, in order to move forward. They just have it so ingrained in them that writing is a special talent or skill that they couldn’t possibly succeed at. Writing is really just like anything else. It takes practice to get better. It takes practice to make it tangible. Small steps work better than large mountainous leaps. And it’s easy to succeed with small steps.