Whether it’s through a weekly writer’s meetup at a local coffee shop, or a university-based MFA program, there is no doubt that workshopping your writing is one of the best ways to improve your craft (and make valuable connections with other writers).
But how can you make the most out of your creative writing workshops? As someone who has attended quite a few workshops, both at the university level and in more informal settings (hello, Starbucks!), I have come up with a couple tips on how to walk away from these sessions feeling inspired, empowered, and not like you want to gouge someone’s eyes out.
Bring Your Listening Ears
Criticism (no matter how constructive) is not always fun, especially when it is directed at your “baby” (i.e. the short story you’ve spent months agonizing over). That being said, when you attend a creative writing workshop, the expectation is that you are there to receive constructive criticism of your work. This criticism is aimed at helping you polish your writing until it shines. When your story or poem shines, the chances of it being selected for publication go up (and who doesn’t want that?).
When your story is being workshopped, resist the urge to interrupt your reviewers and aggressively defend your work. They have taken the time to read your writing and are trying to help you improve. Listen carefully to their suggestions and see if you can incorporate them into your work. It is also helpful to take notes of what everyone says so you can look back on them later.
If someone is taking the time to review and comment on your work, then shouldn’t you be doing the same for them? Writing workshops are all about giving and taking. If they were just about taking, no one would really benefit from them. Before each workshop, make sure you have read and commented on the work your peers have submitted. Chances are, they have worked just as hard on their writing as you have and, because of that, deserve honest and helpful feedback.
Going the extra mile to thoughtfully review your fellow writers’ work will not only improve your own writing, it will also help forge better relationships. If you have a good relationship with your workshop buddies, then they will be more willing to review your work in the future. Plus, having a posse of good writerly friends is just plain fun.
Follow Up/Follow Through
I personally love it when a writer takes workshop comments into consideration and follows through with editing their work. Besides, what’s the point of workshopping your story or poem if you don’t plan on doing something with it? It’s always nice to let the workshop know where you are with editing and/or submitting your work for publication. It’s even better if you can say something along the lines of, “With your comments in mind, I rewrote such-and-such section of my story/poem and the theme I was going for is much clearer now.”
I also think it’s nice to follow up with your fellow writers. Ask them how their projects are going. Ask them if your comments were helpful or if they would like clarification on anything you said during your last workshop. Engage. It feels good knowing that someone is interested in your work and progress as a writer. Pass those good feelings on!
Creating a strong network of fellow artists is an important step in your writing career. Don’t let poor workshop etiquette affect your growth.
Do you have any other workshop “survival” tips? Share them with me in the comments!
— Manuela Williams