My last post was about things to consider if you’re planning to attend a writing workshop. Let’s say you’ve found the right workshop for you. Most likely one important component will be submitting your writing for feedback by fellow participants.
And this is where things often fall apart.
I’ve seen it happen in my MFA program. In small critique groups. In online forums. In structured workshops. Writers come with the best of intentions but have different expectations. Someone gets offended and the whole thing implodes.
I had three long months between being accepted to a recent workshop and attending which gave me plenty of time to worry about the group dynamics. How would we get along? Would we have productive sessions or would things languish into an awkward silence? Happily we quickly got into a nice groove. By the end of our session, we knew each other’s preferences and tendencies.
Here are five guidelines to help make sure you have a productive workshop experience:
- Honor the rules. They are there for a reason. Most workshops have formal or informal rules. Submit the required number of pages in the required format. At the required time. Send your comments to other writers as requested. If the workshop leader asks you to remain quiet while others are discussing your work, then remain quiet. That also means no strange faces, no audible sighs, no slumping back in your seat.
- It’s all about giving and receiving. I’m often amazed when a writer tries to slide by with lame feedback on everyone else’s work but expects a dissertation on his or her work. First, this is a two-way street. Second, you learn as much (or more!) by offering thoughtful comments on another writer’s work as you do reading comments about your work. You’re engaging in critical thinking, rather than passively reading.
- Check your ego at the door. Your group doesn’t need to be bombarded with comments insisting that they MUST change something or they will be sent to writing purgatory. And no piling on without adding something new.
- Addendum: Likewise, check the cheerleading at the door. Writers are there for honest feedback. While I’d love to hear that you think I’m the next Ruth Ozeki, I also need information about how to improve.
- Honest feedback doesn’t mean brutally honest. Yes, we writers need a thick skin. If you can’t take having your work dissected, this might not be the best creative outlet for you. But there is a line between offering constructive criticism and criticizing. If you’re not sure where that line is, ask the group leader.
- Remember that the character’s lifestyle and beliefs don’t necessarily match the author’s…or yours. And that’s okay.
- Addendum: Just because you’re not familiar with something doesn’t mean it’s not possible. A long time ago (in a land far, far away), I had submitted a short story for feedback. One woman found my character unrealistic because she lived in an apartment above a hair salon. “Who does that?” the woman asked.
Have you been part of a writing workshop? Have any items to add to the list?
Next time, I have some suggestions on the most difficult aspect of a workshop: what to do with all those comments you received.
Have a great weekend, everyone!