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Review: The Writer’s Workshop by Gregory Roper

When Miss 10 had to write an argument about which was the most valuable sense, sight or hearing, she was very unhappy.  She dislikes writing in any case, and she couldn’t see any chance of success with this assignment.

I had just skimmed through The Writer’s Workshop:  Imitating Your Way to Better Writing, and its chapter about arguments was still fresh in my mind.  On a whim, I penciled out the classic structure of an argument described in the book and gave it to my daughter. Suddenly her eyes glowed.  She bent over her scribbler and quickly produced some of the best writing she has ever done.

This delighted the author, Professor Roper.  The first three publishers he had approached with his manuscript told him that “it was too difficult to ask college students to do such work” and here my ten-year old was using it profitably!  I think that most young students could do so.  In fact, this writing book, used creatively, could help students throughout their entire learning career. 

I can make this assertion confidently because The Writer’s Workshop promotes a writing method that has been successful for millennia, the classical method of imitating the masters

The genius of The Writer’s Workshop is two-fold: 

  • First, it introduces students to great writing from other times and asks them to imitate it. 
  • Second, it points out both the macrostructure (organization) and the microstructure (word use) of the piece of writing. 

It’s this second step that makes the book practical.  What got Miss 10 writing her argument was having a macrostructure to follow.  Never mind that it was from Thomas Aquinas!

So what sort of writing is included in The Writer’s Workshop?  Everything from descriptions, definitions, and rules, to logic, arguments, and negotiation.  Writers studied include Dickens, Hemingway, Joyce, the apostle Paul, Cicero, and, in a dynamic exchange of letters, Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV of Germany.  Part of the joy of this text is the wide range of writing to imitate.

As a textbook, The Writer’s Workshop is fairly self-explanatory, with discussions, detailed tasks for the students, samples of student work, and useful notes for the teacher.  An index would have made it somewhat easier to use.

Obviously this book is written for college students.  Older motivated high school students can probably work through the book on their own but will, of course, learn more if mom is intimately involved.  Younger children will need mom to translate the book’s techniques, examples, and philosophy to their level. 

One of my summer projects, which I plan to post about, will be to do exactly that:  adapt the tasks in The Writer’s Workshop to my children’s interests and abilities. 

This is the kind of book that makes my heart sing.  It is so fascinating and helpful that I cannot help talking about it with my children.  Of course, by now two of my teens have read it to see what is so exciting.  Miss 13 is already applying many of its ideas in her third novel, based on Jane Austen’s work.  Mr. 16 has unconsciously been applying them in his technical writing.   Who knows what will happen next year when we formally use this curriculum.

If you follow the classical or Charlotte Mason approach in your homeschool, you’ll love this book.  Do buy it.  If you homeschool in a different style, The Writer’s Workshop could still benefit you, but you might want to examine it before buying.  Of course, this book could be for writing moms as well…. 

Update:  Here’s a post about how we’re using The Writer’s Workshop in our home.

About the Author:  Professor Roper currently chairs the English Department at the University of Dallas, and also offers writing lessons for homeschooling families and others through his website.   

Disclosure I received a complimentary copy of The Writer’s Workshop in order to give you my honest opinion. 

The Writer’s Workshop is my 21st book in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge.

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