Writing 101: How to Workshop like a Badass

on Apr 8, 2011
Let's talk about workshopping.

A writing workshop can be a nerve-wracking experience. Luckily I have been posting my writing online and being critiqued for a long time, so it no longer bugs me. However, now in the senior year of my Creative Writing major, it seems that all we do is workshop; we pull our chairs into circles, everyone passes out copies, we read and then we offer feedback.

And there you sit as the writer, gritting your teeth as you try to get something useful out of the experience. Maybe you jot down notes. Every workshop has at least one "I didn't get it! I hate it! This sucks!" from the group. And after an agonizing 15, 20, 45 minutes of having your story dissected like a cadaver, you run home crying because you spent a month on the piece and nobody seemed to "get it." Nobody seemed to care about your feelings or your intentions with the story. Nobody noticed your hard work with motifs or imagery, the spunky characters or the funny dialogue. How can readers be so cold? Where is the humanity??? 

News Flash: YOUR STORY IS NOT YOU.

It is extremely important that you do not become overly attached to one piece of work. Writing is a craft, so treat it like one. For some reason people make critiquing and workshopping a very personal experience, almost like a therapy session. So here's another News Flash: A WORKSHOP IS NOT A THERAPY SESSION.

Don't get caught up in taking everyone's comments personally. Don't sit there and allow people's responses to your story to effect your confidence as a writer. Here's the conclusion I've drawn after many, many workshop experiences: Most people are full of sh*t and are more interested in hearing themselves talk than actually encouraging your writing. Everyone wants a pat on the back for sounding smart. But don't let this fool you -- unless a person is successful, published, or credentialed, their opinion stands as just that: an opinion. Take it with a grain of salt. They didn't get the "funny" dialogue in the beginning -- so what? They thought your descriptions were trite and overused. Who cares? We are all craftsmen trying to perfect our craft, and after a certain point, all "good writing" comes down to a matter of taste. What you need to learn to do is listen to the advice that resonates with you, and recognize bad advice when you hear it, because not everyone in a workshopping group knows how to write (and especially important, not everyone in a workshopping group has good taste.)

So go grab your story or poem, put on a pair of dark sunglasses, sit back and turn on your ipod. You are about to be hit with a flurry of opinions -- and when the storm has passed, all that really matters is your own opinion of your story and what the few advanced writers/mentors of the group have to say. Everyone else can go home sobbing and ripping their stories to pieces. You, however, don't need to worry about that. Your story is fine how it stands. Tuck the few nuggets of wisdom you've learned into your writing pocket to whip out on the next round. Congratulations, you are now free of a stubborn emotional attachment to your work -- now just watch how fast your writing will bloom!

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