The Writers Studio

Student Isaac Kirkman, left, with Eleanor Kedney, Tucson branch director of The Writers Studio, and Philip Schultz, right, founder and director of The Writers Studio.

The Writers Studio Tucson teaches students to develop their voice.

“Whether writing for themselves or publication, our technique helps them write their best,” says director Eleanor Kedney. The Writers Studio Tucson is one of three branches of the New York City-based technical school founded by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Philip Schultz.

The 10-week sessions focus on the craft of writing. Class size is limited, with a maximum enrollment of 12 students, and taught in workshop format. Slackers need not enroll as everyone participates during the 2½-hour classes. With guidance and direction from Kedney and her teachers, students read, discuss and critique one another’s writing. The only grade is the self-satisfaction of writing well.

“Artists need to practice,” Kedney said. “Painters practice, musicians practice, writers need to practice too.” And that’s what The Writers Studio focuses on, practicing the technique of successful writers, such as Tony Hoagland, Jennifer Egan, Mathew Klamm and Lorrie More.

“Each week, the students focus on an assigned writer’s passage. On their own, prior to class, students analyze how the writer wrote what they did, and then students mimic the technique by writing a page and a half based upon their own material,” Kedney said. In class, the group takes turns reading and critiquing each others’ work.

“Students learn positive critique methods and everyone understands how they can improve their work,” she said.

Jane Kattapong, a neurologist, has been enrolled in the school for four years. “I’ve learned a lot about myself as I’ve gone through the process,” she said.

Kattapong continues to be engaged because “writing takes me out of my realm of day-to-day concerns and shows a part of myself that isn’t visible.” She believes “crafting a piece of writing is unlike any other activity. I’m creating a work of art, something that is part of myself but presented in a way that’s meaningful to others.”

At the heart of The Writers Studio’s teaching philosophy is the development of a personal narrator. “Fiction doesn’t care about facts,” Kedney said. Developing the story’s personal narrator, or PN in The Writers Studio lingo, “frees the writer of autobiographical entanglements so that the author can access their material.” The school teaches writers to plumb emotional depths and learn how to create and sustain effective distance.

Lela MacNeil, who works in marketing, is a student in the school’s intermediate level.

“In the six months of studying their technique, my writing has improved dramatically,” she said. MacNeil earned a bachelor’s of fine arts in screenwriting from New York University.

“I came into The Writers Studio feeling unconnected and dissatisfied with my work,” she said. The school’s format of focusing on craft honed her skills. “The weekly exercises exposed me to writers that I would never have read.” And, in the process, MacNeil developed her own voice or style of writing. “I now carefully choose each word so that it makes sense to the technique I’m using.”

The Writers Studio Tucson offers three levels of instruction on weekday nights. “Everyone who is new to our way of teaching starts in the workshop level regardless of publication record,” Kedney said. Once progress is made, students move into the intermediate level, and then to the advanced level, where students work on their own pieces instead of on assignments.

Two years ago, Isaac Kirkman sat in on a free introductory class Kedney offered and was hooked. The school appealed to Kirkman because “it gave me techniques to articulate my voice.” A life-long writer, Kirkman suffered from writer’s block at the time. “I was writing about why I couldn’t write,” he said. “The assignments gave me problems to solve and distracted me. Without the pressure, I got into a rhythm, and then everything flowed from there.”

Now, in the advanced level class, Kirkman has published four short stories since joining the school, and has been asked to write a fifth for an upcoming magazine issue.

Kedney, a poet, began the school’s Tucson branch in 2005. It was The Writers Studio’s first venture outside of New York. “I had 10 students in one class,” she said. Now, there are nearly 40 spread across three levels, with three different teachers.

“Our technique works for poets, as well as fiction and creative non-fiction writers,” she said. “We have students who are doctors, scientists, school teachers, lawyers, journalists, Realtors. Basically people from all walks of life who want to do their best writing.” In addition to classes, the school sponsors public readings, both of students and teaching staff, as well as with Philip Schultz and other well known writers.

Kirkman found a community of friends at The Writers Studio Tucson as well working through his writer’s block. Sitting around a table and sharing work week after week, led to fellowship outside the classroom. “The community of other writers is a crucial element of my life, almost as important as the writing,” he said.

More Information: The next free introductory class of The Writers Studio Tucson is March 12th, and the next Workshop Level 10-week session begins Thursday, March 28th. For more information and to register contact Eleanor Kedney at (520) 743-8214 or eleanor@writerstudio.com. www.writersstudio.com.