A Guest Blog by EditingWorm’s Writer of the Month!
I loved my major: writing. I never had study sessions or exams. I never had to purchase textbooks equal to the price of a purebred puppy. Writing classes were designed to prompt creativity and fine-tune written story-telling skills, true or not. All that was required of me was to show up, complete the (very open-ended) assignments, and workshop.
Anyone who views the writing process as a personal experience may be intimidated by the idea of workshopping. Criticism isn’t always easy to take, especially in a group setting. In my experience, my fate depended on the first letter of my last name or the seat I had chosen, given that workshop groups were almost always assigned at random, which made sharing the sometimes personal or bizarre themes of my writing an endeavor a bit outside my comfort zone.
Just to clarify, writing workshops are sessions allocated for group discussion on the written work of one or more writer. It’s a time for expressing to group members what works, what doesn’t, giving suggestions, and sharing any other thoughts that arise. You’ll get positive feedback and negative feedback, despite how well prepared you are for either.
As a writer, your readers will not always grasp your original vision for every piece you write. Your readers won’t always get the underlying theme or experimental style you decided to try out as a result of that spur-of-the moment creative stroke of genius you were favored with. Every writer will receive negative feedback at some point, whether it’s in the form of, I found this part a little confusing… or, I’m not sure what you were trying to say here…, or the more blunt, You should take this out. But take my advice and don’t let these and other criticisms steer you away from sharing your work with fellow writers.
Writing workshop groups have undoubtedly improved my writing and expanded my willingness to experiment with different writing styles and genres. Writing may be a personal process, but editing, expanding, improving, and brainstorming are best accomplished with others’ assistance.
To get the most out of your workshop group, keep these tried-and-proven tips in mind to ensure the continual improvement of your writing skills:
-Don’t dwell on the writing levels of your group members. Not everyone in your group will be at the same level of writing as you. In the case that your writing skills are stronger, don’t let it go to your head. And don’t think that you won’t learn anything from them. Just because someone may still be developing his or her writing skills does not mean they cannot read or interpret your work thoroughly. Every set of eyes will catch something in your piece that may have escaped your discerning eye. If, on the other hand, you have the least experience of the group, don’t be intimidated. Don’t be afraid to voice your suggestions, and enjoy the extra time your group members may spend critiquing your work.
-Don’t let the idea of sharing your work limit your creativity. Write as experimentally, or with as much innovation or detail as you desire. This was often a concern of mine when writing personal nonfiction pieces. I was afraid of coming across a certain way. I didn’t want my group members judging parts of my life, or questioning what was and was not true. What I didn’t realize was that they had no intention of critiquing me, just my writing. So don’t hold back from including any information you want in your piece. Don’t tell yourself, Oh, I’ll just add this part in later. Add it now. Despite how nervous you may be sharing a part of your true or fictional story to others, the only way you can effectively improve your piece is to hear what your group members have to say. If a certain part of your work is especially personal or important to you, let your group know. They will be certain to tread with caution and spend extra time on that particular section.
-Write about things you are passionate about. First, your best writing comes out when you’re writing about a subject that is important to you. Your readers will catch onto this and become much more engaged. Second, the topic will likely be something that is a bit unfamiliar to your group members. This is great. Often, you want your writing to be understandable and enjoyable for a large audience, meaning that detailed concepts must be as clear as possible. Group members will let you know what reads as confusing or too complicated and help you to present the concept in a more straightforward fashion. Words or phrases that don’t faze you at all might be as foreign as ancient Greek to others.
-Experiment liberally. Consider your group members your guinea pigs. They’ll read anything, so you might as well make use of the opportunity. Only fellow writers will read through a deep piece of poetry or a piece lacking traditional structure and offer you more than, Well, that was interesting. Play around with unusual storylines, formatting, or themes. You’ll be surprised how group discussion can help you streamline a very rough or experimental idea.
Workshop groups are a great resource as a writer. Of course, they will always catch your grammar and spelling mistakes, missing pages, and mismatched character names throughout the piece that happened as a result of realizing that your character, Sabrina, was really a Penelope at heart. But most importantly, workshop groups are there to talk about the core of your piece. They will enlighten you with symbolisms and meanings you never realized were there in the first place. Your group is there to talk about your piece, so enjoy your moment in the spotlight!
Erin Fraboni is an up-and-coming author and recent UC San Diego graduate who currently works for EditingWorm as an Assistant Copy Writer and Editor. She graduated with a degree in Literature and Writing, which has been invaluable to expanding upon her love of writing all things fiction and nonfiction.