I first joined a writing workshop in October 2004. At that time, I had published in non-fiction, but I had never shown my fiction to anyone, even though I’d written since I could pick up a pen. Showing a bunch of strangers my writing was the most scary thing I’d ever done.
So – before you join a writing workshop – what it is, what can you expect, and why should you join?
First of all, a definition. By writing workshop I mean a place, online or in real life, where writers post their work and have their peers read and comment. I do not mean writing courses given by experts, or critiqueing services by experts. Writing workshops are free, or if there is a fee, it is to maintain the site, not to pay reviewers.
Why should you join?
I’ll play the question back at you: why shouldn’t you? If you write for an audience, there comes a time that your writing should go out to an audience. Here is your audience, ready to read.
What can you expect?
To learn lots, but in many unquantifyable ways. Your fellow workshop members will also be aspiring writers. They have no great knowledge of marketability, or even of writing techniques, but they are readers, and have valid opinions about what they read. They allow you to see your manuscript through the eyes of a reader. Their opiniions are valuable.
What should you do when you’re in a workshop?
Don’t just sit there! Offer reviews, return reviews, or partake in discussion.
When someone gives you comments: don’t talk back. Don’t explain. Don’t attempt to make them see your point of view. You can’t do this with anonymous readers either. If you buy a book, you don’t get a little version of the author sitting on your shoulder explaining stuff.
Develop some distance form your work. Don’t get defensive. Thicken your skin.
Wait until all comments are in before you decide what to do with your work. Never edit to please one particular reviewer.
Put all ‘this is great’ reviews in a folder, stick them away under the bed for a rainy day, and ignore them.
Never dismiss any review that has ‘negative’ things, not even the wild outliers. In my experience, these comments are often right.
If anyone says ‘you will surely sell this’ for crying out loud, delete it and forget about it. No one in this workshop has sold anything major and no one knows about selling fiction. It will only serve to inflate your head, and that is the last thing you need.
When giving comments:
Sarcasm is as bad as rudeness.
Always re-read your reviews for anything that could be interpreted in ways you hadn’t intended.
Don’t EVER quote writing books at people, unless you want to come off as a mega-arrogant prick.
Try not to re-write people’s sentences.
Give people you review a bit of space to digest it.
Above all, have fun. Connect with writers and improve your work out of sight.