How to Workshop
By: Kori Marshall
(don’t worry it’s easy!)
I deemed myself a writer long before I knew what I was doing. It wasn’t until I got to college and took my first creative writing class that I realized how vital feedback was. While any feedback is more beneficial than no feedback, there is a special kind of success and feeling that comes with a workshop. I’ve taken two university level writing classes that require a workshop and am currently enrolled in another class, creative nonfiction, online. This blog is sort of a quick and dirty guide to work-shopping to show you not only how easy it can be, but how beneficial it is in the long run.
- Make sure you have enough copies for everyone to read your piece, or post it online like to Google docs and give everyone access. This process works best if people have ample time to read your work before you go to discuss it. Give the others in your group, even if it’s only two or three, time to read your piece, make comments on it and then ask them to come back a couple of days later to re-read and add other comments.
- You, the writer, should be quiet. I know it’s hard to watch and let people devour your work or twist some line out of context, but it’s vital to understand the way others will interpret your work. Even though it can be painful to let something get twisted, it shows the way that you’ve written it was not clear and should be redeveloped. Remember, when you get published in The New Yorker or in your own chapbook, you won’t be able to hold the hand of every reader and guide them through what you meant.
- Have someone read it out loud if possible. Or even, while you’re reviewing other’s comments online, read it out loud first. If there’s a line or a few or some particularly chunky sentence that you trip over more than once, make a note of it. There’s a reason it’s hard to read and maybe it’s worth revising.
- A line-by-line review is incredibly helpful, but sometimes the most helpful part would be an overall summary at the end to look at the entire piece instead of in choppy bits. For my online class, we’re required to write a review of at least 400 words on every piece that we read. The summarizing part gives you the greatest look at your entire work and allows the reader to really understand what others were thinking while reading it.
- Don’t get defensive. These people are here to help you. Even if their review is more criticism than constructive, it is making you a stronger writer. There are always going to be comments that you want to ignore and feel free to do so! But if something is repeated more than once, it is worth paying attention to. Readers outside of yourself catch things you don’t. When reviewing, make sure you balance both pros and cons. Compliment something done really well and then hit on something you found distracting or not well done. A workshop exists so that any writer will be the reader of another piece, so keep that in mind when you’re about to rip up another person’s piece. Do to other’s work as you’d like done to yours!
Workshops have been the most beneficial to develop my own work. I have 15+ copies of feedback on one of my favorite poems and every time I go to revise that poem a little more or a little differently, I dig up those scribbled workshop papers. Value the feedback of others. Someday, when you’re old and painfully famous, they will have been what got you started and developed you to who you are now!