5 Lessons for the Workshop Writer

Now, my darlings, a quick lesson on workshopping. Every writer must seek feedback on his or her work. It’s imperative. Thirty minutes in a workshop table can fuel you for an entire week. Don’t accept the adage of “All work and no play make Johnny a dull boy,”—a writer by himself going crazy from the lonely craft. Writing is, or should be, a team effort.

Last semester I had a playwright workshop course; currently, I’m in a short story workshop. Because I’m nice, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. You’re welcome, America (and possibly Croatia).

Fair Warning: This blog post was not workshopped. I know, I know.

Here’s my top 5 lessons from the workshop table.

1) Prepare for the worst. Sorry, but your first draft wasn’t perfect. Embrace what’s coming. Get into the habit of looking forward to the edits. (Edits are your friends. They take you to new places and introduce you to new things.) 

2) Write down what you’re hearing. Jot down as much as you can. Highlight common responses. Take special notice to what is confusing or attractive. Too often, I see the workshopped writer squirming in his or her seat like a dentist patient during a cavity fill. Get busy!

3) Be gracious with the “rudies.” In the wake of the internet, it seems we are all relearning our manners. Don’t take it personally. Some people are just rude. Usually, these are the “new” people who haven’t yet had their paper workshopped. They’ll learn.

4) Stay true to your vision (filter, filter, filter). The danger of workshopping is that it can lead you astray if you let it. Use feedback to expose your clunky diction or inappropriate, ineffective subtext. Use it to identify what “is working” and what isn’t. Don’t, (pause for emphasis), use it as an excuse to bail on your vision.

5) Make a habit of doing this. Not every writer is enrolled in college and has access to workshopping courses. Nevertheless, use your trusted friends and family first. Use your blog. For the more meaningful compositions, use online communities like Scribophile. (Scribophile is awesome. Get on it, if you’re not already).

Writing the “perfect first draft” is like searching for the fountain of youth: a noble quest, but a silly way to waste your energy. Get over your ego and ask for help! An extra pair of eyes can make all the difference.

Kevin’s final thought: The Number Kevin is not a blog dedicated to writing tips. I’m no professional; I’m learning as I go. What, then, is this blog for? Great question, I’m considering a concentration on Mexican food. I’m also currently hungry.

That’s it! Any workshop tips to add? Experiences to share? Warnings? Disagreements? Florida tickets?

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3 comments

  1. The times I participated in writing scavenger hunts on Xanga were great fun, and I appreciated the feedback. The most amazing thing was that when I worked on writing poetry, it made my fiction writing much tighter because I now look for ways to express things succinctly.

  2. I appreciate the recommendation of “Scribophile” for feedback. I have come to rely too heavily on my personal editor and need to spread the load among a more diverse group of beta readers.

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