George Saunders on Writing Workshops

From The Missouri Review

The only thing I try to do is to constantly be reminding my students (and myself) that this whole workshop thing is really just an economic construct. Historically, it was (and is) a great way to get older writers paid to teach and younger writers paid to write. And this method can severely affect the Fiction; there’s that committee tendency. So we try to constantly deconstruct the process itself. The other thing I’ve been playing with is the idea of getting away from the traditional let’s-all-crap-on-Hal’s-story approach and instead using exercises and close readings of very short passages of text and so on to open things up a bit. What I find myself doing more and more is approaching a story as a manifestation of energy and trying not to say what’s good or bad about it but focusing on where and how a story is attempting to manifest itself. That is, I try to look at how the strengths and weaknesses of a story are intimately bound up together.
Ultimately workshops aren’t something you’re supposed to do your whole life. I think of it as two or three years of shock therapy that you won’t ever repeat again. Sometimes I think the whole point of workshops is to humiliate you and frustrate you until you come to the realization that you are the only one who can figure this writing thing out for yourself. That’s how it was for me. After two years of workshops, I was totally convinced that I was going to have to do it myself and that I was never going to negotiate with someone about my stories again.