Rocking the Hot Key: Online Workshops in a Low-Residency MFA
By Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio
All writers crave feedback.
Okay, maybe some writers would just prefer we wordlessly bask in their genius, but I’ll guess if you’re interested in pursuing an MFA in creative writing, it’s because you want to be a better writer. And that means getting people to look at your stuff.
Creative writing workshops come in all flavors, but what they have in common is that it takes a village to raise a writer. You exchange work, read it, and share advice. You’re in it together. You have the benefit of a captive audience, and that’s a rare gift, well worth the attendant jitters.
The Bluegrass Writers Studio is an odd duck among low-residency programs. Why? Our model depends on workshops. The classic low-residency shtick is the “one-to-one mentorship.” You get assigned a mentor instructor, you send your work to that mentor, and you get feedback. Think Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
But what if you could have your mentor and your audience of peer participants, too? Well, that’s why the Bluegrass Writers Studio has run workshops since Day One. The workshops are led by dedicated mentors who give extensive written and verbal feedback on your work, but they’re also populated by passionate fellow-artists, every single one of whom brings something different to the table. You’ll rarely get a broader and more varied sense of your work then when people from all walks of life sit down to discuss it.
Wait, you may be asking. How does a low-residency program run weekly workshops if the students are all in different time zones?
We do it online using a virtual “round table,” a user-friendly communication program kind of like Skype but more reliable and more suited to workshop. Each group gets together on a designated night, and when you’re ready to talk, you chime in with your audio hot key.
Is the live online workshop environment identical to a live, in-person workshop? Nope. There’s no substitute for expressions and gestures and the free flow of ideas that can happen in a regular workshop. Then again, many students come to prefer the more regimented, slightly more distant style of the online workshop. Nobody can see the faces you’re making, for one, and you can pretty much wear whatever you want to class, even your skivvies, if you feel like it.
Like a traditional residency, the Bluegrass Writers Studio has its fair share of classic workshops, like when our students come together in person for our Winter and Summer Residencies. And like any good low-residency program, we’ve got you covered with the extensive written and verbal feedback from your mentor. But with our live online workshop we bring something new to the virtual table. Call it low-residency plus, and that has made all the difference.
Published on January 28, 2014