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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Camp Writing Center: Man's Best Friend

Hello all,

I’m sure you are all just thrilled to get another post from me since I don’t show up here nearly as often as I should. I have been charged with posting something witty and smart, that incorporates my beloved Hank and Penny. For those of you who don’t know, Hank and Penny are my two beautiful English Setters. They are my babies, and they are a constant thought in my brain.

On that note, I want to use them as a jumping off point for my post. Hank and Penny spend some of their days at Camp Bow Wow. This is an innovative business for dog owners who consider their pets as their children. At this camp, dogs go through an interview process to ensure that they will be able to play well with others, and will cause no harm. After they are accepted, they can play all day at camp under the constant supervision of trained professionals. The owners are also able to check in on their babies through the use of a digital surveillance system that can be accessed via the website.

On the other hand, if I were to take my dogs to a dog park, they would still get the chance to socialize, but I would run the risk of encountering untrained dogs that could possibly do my perfect angels harm. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an anti dog park person, in fact, I take my dogs to the dog park regularly, however, I know that when I go there, I have to be very watchful of what is going on around me. I know that there is a greater risk of encountering an ill-behaved hound there.

You may all be wondering if all of this has anything to do with the Writing Center, or whether I am just looking for a way to incorporate my pooches into this forum. I assure you, I do have a point. It may be a tad bit far-fetched (pun unintended), but here it is. I have been privy to a lot of discussion about writing groups and peer review groups lately through my senior seminar course. The instructor is a supporter of writing groups. However, one of our assigned readings for the course is Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing.” In one of the chapters we just read, King talked about his disapproval of writing groups, in most all forms.

So, what does this have to do with Camp Bow Wow? It brings to light the reasoning behind King’s feelings on writing groups. It also reinforces the positive outcome of the Writing Center. King’s encounters with inexperienced peer reviewers proved harmful to him in that he felt attacked by people who weren’t qualified to attack him. Are you seeing the connection yet? Dog parks are like inexperienced peer review groups. In the same way that unchecked dogs can cause damage in an unattended setting, peer reviewers that have not been through at least some form of instruction on how to critique writing can set a writer up not to trust the process.

The Writing Center, on the other hand, is like Camp Bow Wow. We have a public water cooler, we offer treats, and we have nifty writing center squeezy balls. We do not have dogs running around the center, nor do we use squirt bottles to guard against rough-housing; but we do encourage a safe environment where writers can feel comfortable talking about their writing. As well, like the trained professionals that look after Hank and Penny, the writing center is staffed by trained consultants who are aware of the delicate nature of peer review. The chances of a writer being injured in the center are much less than in a non-mediated peer group.

I do not want to give the impression that I am against writing groups outside of the academic setting. I think these can be very helpful as well. I am just saying that when a writer engages in a peer review setting where no training has taken place, they run the risk of encountering an irresponsible reader who may not have the writer’s best interests at heart. What do you guys think? Have any of you participated in non-academic writing groups? If so, what was your experience like? Do you think Writing Centers offer a safer environment for writers to engage in conversation? (There may be treats for good consultants who take the time to respond)

2 comments:

  1. nice parallels, Sam. Give Hank and Penny my best. :) Your post made me think of writing groups that are organized/sponsored by academic writing centers. At IWCA last fall, I heard some people describing such groups. Do any peercentered people have groups like this through their writing centers? How much monitoring (or, spray bottle squirting) goes on to guide helpful feedback (with no roughhousing)?

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  2. I was part of a very small, informal creative writing group, maybe 5 or 6 of us who had met in poetry classes. We met about 6 or 7 times, and the meetings eventually dissolved as egotism and psychosis began leading the discussion, rather than constructive criticism.

    On the other hand, we've been holding weekly creative writing sessions in our WC for some time now. Turn-out isn't always very high, but we regularly have meaningful discussions.

    I would say a lot comes down to the individuals and their strengths and interests. But you're right that the placement of those individuals (say, in the WC) definitely has a role to play. When the setting is a little more professional, we tend to act a little more like professionals (for better or worse).

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