Workshops for Writers
By Kate, age 19, New Hampshire
Sweet Designs Staff Intern
Sweet Designs Featured Writer
As a writer, you will be required to take writing classes, of course. These can be anything from poetry to fiction or journalism. In almost all of these classes, you will be required to write something - a story, poem, or maybe something else - and share it with the rest of the class for critique. This is a workshop.
Generally, workshops all work the same. You will be given a certain date when your writing will be "workshopped". This may be assigned to you, or you might be able to pick the date yourself. Either way, you MUST have your assigned writing piece in by this day. Most teachers ask for it the class before your date so they can make copies and hand them out to other students in your class. The other students will read your writing and form opinions and critiques. On the day of your workshop, students will tell you what they like, what they think works, and what they don't like, or what confuses them.
What do you get to do during this time? Nothing. You cannot speak while being workshopped. You may, however, take notes - this is highly recommended! Write down what people say - not just the bad, but the good stuff, too! This is important for you as a writer to see what works in your story and what doesn't. You may use your notes afterward to go back and fix what needs to be fixed.
Workshops are not intended to make you feel bad and should not be a way of attacking someone you don't like. You may not like someone's writing, but you do not have the right to criticize it (criticize, as in "trash it"). The purpose of workshops is to provide insight for the writer. As writers, we don't always catch things that make our writing confusing. Having other people read it benefits us. People may find things that you missed and will help you bring clarity to your writing. So, pay attention to what your peers have to say. It doesn't mean you have to redo the whole piece and use their suggestions, but take their suggestions into consideration. You will see that if one person finds a spot confusing, other people may as well.
At the end of your workshop time, you will be allowed to ask questions. Don't just blow this off and sulk to yourself! Ask as many questions as possible. Does the title work? Does the ending work? Does the beginning work? How can I make this more effective? What would you like to see more of? Anything not mentioned during the workshop that you would like feedback on is good to ask!
Your first workshop may seem scary. Maybe you're not someone who likes people to read your writing. But, if you ever want to make it in the writing world, people reading your work is a must. Don't blow off any advice or suggestions from others.
This also applies even if you are not being workshopped. If someone else in your class is, take the time to tell them what you thought of their work. Help them to make it better, and be kind about it. Chances are, they are just as nervous as you are.
Some Do's and Don'ts to Successful Workshops
Do: start off with something nice. I always try to start off the discussion by pointing out strong parts of the piece. I applaud the writer for their descriptions and word choices. These make people feel good. Starting off with negative feedback just makes things tedious for the writer and they may not realize all the good stuff in their work.
Don't: try to justify yourself. Let people say what they want to say and try to see things the way they are seeing things. You may know everything about what's going on in your piece because you're the writer, but readers don't have the same thoughts as you and may be missing out on some of those things.
Do: take notes and ask questions. This will help you a lot when it comes time to revise. You should have a lot of feedback to help push you in the right direction.
Don't: remain silent. If you have something to say about someone's piece, say it! As long as you are nice about it, of course. Everything will help the writer make their piece better. Even if you are pointing out a misspelled word, a grammatical error, or a confusing scene, don't hold back!
So, if you haven't had a workshop yet, hopefully this will give you a little insight on what they're all about! And good luck with your first workshop!