For those writers who haven’t had the opportunity to attend classes or writing seminars, the term “workshop” is foreign. And for those of us who haven’t ever shown anyone our work, it can be terrifying to open yourself up to any kind of critique, especially from strangers. This is how I felt when I entered college and my first writing class involved workshops right at the start of the semester.
But, for those of you who have never had a workshop, I wanted to tell you just what to expect from them. Nobody told me, and I wish they had, because workshops are quite possibly the best resource for writers. There are really only four steps to the process:
1. Write a story.
2. Have the workshop group read the story.
3. Discuss possible revisions and advice.
4. Decide which advice to take and begin revision.
That’s it. That’s everything workshop is and isn’t. No one’s out to get you. No one’s going to laugh or be mean or attack you. If they are, they’ll be kicked out of the group. Workshopping is an open process of kind, creative critique.
And it’s okay to be nervous. It’s only natural. All the other workshoppers getting their story workshopped, no matter how much bravado they’re putting on, are nervous too.
But never think that workshops are going to hurt you as a writer.
Workshops are going to show you where your story needs the most work. No first draft is perfect; no second or third draft is perfect. There are going to be places that need work that you don’t see simply because you’re too close to the story. And, yes, the critiques may sting a bit at the time because this is the story you’ve put your whole heart into. But this is the greatest part of workshop: if you don’t agree with a suggested edit, you don’t have to make it.
This is the one thing to remember throughout your workshop. Not every piece of advice is going to apply to you. Someone may suggest a style or voice change that just rubs you the wrong way. Fine, don’t make it, it’s your style. Someone might say the character development feels stunted, but the point of the story is to show an immature character. Fine, have an immature character.
Not everyone is going to like your story. Not everyone is going to get it right off the bat. It’s not a finished product, after all, and all readers are subjective. But if there’s a consistent problem that all the workshoppers noticed that makes the story difficult to understand or enjoy, it’s time to go back and rectify what is confusing them. That can only make your story better.
So don’t be afraid if you’re about to go to your first workshop. You’re going to be a better writer for it.
Nicole Aronis is an aspiring novelist and short story writer. She runs a writing advice and community blog at writerlywonderings.tumblr.com.