Guest Post: Four Tips for Making the Most of Writing Workshops by Lauren Bailey
December 13, 2011 by Lillie
For fiction and nonfiction writers alike, going it completely alone is a difficult process that takes much longer without the encouragement and support from a group. Of course, enrolling in a writing workshop is by no means a necessary step in becoming a published author, but I feel that every writer can stand to benefit from the experience of learning and honing writing techniques in a group setting, even if you try it only once. It’s certainly an experience that can expand your writing horizons, especially if you approach workshops the right way. While there are various different types of writing workshops, the most useful in my experience has been the critique workshop, in which each writer writes at least one piece, and everyone in the group works together in critiquing the piece constructively. To make the most out of these types of workshops, here are a few tips:
1. Always come prepared.
Most of the work done while participating in a writing workshop is usually completed outside the group meeting itself. There are three main components that most writing workshops share—reading material written by published authors, reading and critiquing participants’ work, and writing one or more pieces to share with the rest of the group. Many first-time workshop participants spend too much time drafting their piece, effectively missing out on developing skills that are just as important like editing and reading published work analytically.
2. When your piece is being critiqued, listen attentively, take notes, and ask questions.
Perhaps the strangest part about attending writing workshops, the one that takes the most getting used to, is being “judged” by a panel of your peers. In most workshops, the group will discuss your writing aloud, but they will not refer to you by name, only “the writer.” Although it may initially seem like an intimidating process, keep yourself busy by taking extensive notes. Remember that a writing workshop is an incredible opportunity to get feedback from other writers, so respect the time everyone put into critiquing your work by honestly considering what everyone has to say.
3. Learn to take good advice and discard bad advice.
Many writers criticize workshops because you are essentially learning from others who are amateurs themselves. Too much conflicting criticism from a diverse group of writers may cause you to change your work so much that it’s no longer uniquely yours. The best way to avoid this scenario is to consider all criticism first. Analyze each person’s critiques carefully, noting which writers share your vision, and which are more prone to pushing their sense of style onto others. It’s also advisable to keep track of the number of comments that you receive criticizing the same problem. If many people see a problem with a particular scene or aspect of a particular character, then you should seriously consider reworking these specific parts with which many have taken issue.
4. Put time and effort into critiquing others’ work. It’ll make you a stronger editor and writer.
When I first attended a writing workshop, I spent the least amount of time critiquing others’ work because I was so engrossed in writing my own short story drafts. What I didn’t know at the time was that this practice eventually backfires in a workshop setting. For one, if you don’t put much effort into critiquing others’ work, your peers won’t put much effort into your work—workshops are definitely a two-way street. What’s more, carefully reading other participants work helps you to develop your eye for common writing mistakes. Since it’s so much easier to find fault in others work than our own, practicing editing others’ work will make you a better editor of your writing eventually.
If you haven’t yet joined a writing workshop, I highly recommend trying it out. Even if you don’t find the experience very helpful, you will have at least met a group of writers that share with you the joys and frustrations of artistic creation.
If you aren’t sure where to find a workshop or critique group, ask your local library, community college, or arts organization. For writer’s conferences and retreats, which involve participants spending several days in a specific setting with writers from around the country, check out this comprehensive listing. If you need guidance on forming your own critique group, be sure to read Lillie Amman’s previous advice here. Good luck!
This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for best online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: email@example.com.