Recently one of my novelist friends and I were out to dinner, discussing writing. He happened to mention being stuck at a spot in his most recent story and having called another novelist to talk it through. My first reaction was surprise, to think that one professional novel writer needed to confer with another. It jarred with my image of both these people as masters of their craft, each sitting in a solitary tower, quietly capturing words on paper.
I suspect you might have reacted the same, just now. We are so used to thinking of writing as a lonely occupation that we forget its innate nature as communication. A writer puts words on paper hoping someone else will read them. That is as true of novelists as of newspaper columnists.
The anecdote above reveals one other thing common to writers: the need for feedback. With novelists, much of that feedback comes from an editor once a draft is finished. But after hanging out with novelists for years, I’m coming to recognize that feedback often means discussion among the writers themselves.
Note that feedback among writers—including student writers—accomplishes more than simply fixing the textual problem of the moment. It also promotes the identification and sharing of tricks and techniques. I add “identification” because sometimes it is only in expressing knowledge to someone else that we fully recognize it ourselves.
As the world moves forward into the future, the image of the solitary writer in the lonely room will become more and more outdated. Even in scholarly pursuits, collaboration is becoming increasingly the norm. Quality feedback helps to shorten the time needed for a piece of writing, and the writer him- or herself, to mature. This is what makes workshopping so important for a writing classroom.