writing

Being Workshopped

I like to talk about editing and critiquing a lot. I want to be an editor, so it’s a topic that’s constantly on my mind. Some of you probably remember my rant on critique partner etiquette. But between my four English classes this semester, I’m currently in the midst of two writing workshops, and these are just some of the things I’ve been noticing.

1) Some people want validation and some want critique. This is a given. A certain someone in one of my classes, whom I will call Po (I’ve got Kung Fu Panda on my mind, okay?), usually has one or two rants in their work. When my fellow classmates and/or the professor call them on it, they become defensive and insinuate we just don’t get it.

This infuriates me, so I choose this point to shut my mouth and not say a word, because a classroom is not the setting to word vomit years of frustration with thankless writers.

Then there are people who keep their mouths shut, calmly listen, take notes, and – calmly and rationally – ask questions at the end of the session. I love these people. They genuinely want help, and I’m a hundred percent happy to do what I can.

2) It’s difficult to just listen. It’s in a writer’s nature to want to explain and defend their work. But the best thing you can do is take notes and try your best to understand what your audience is telling you. There might be stuff you immediately throw into your mental trash can, and that’s a hundred percent okay. But be an active listener and, most importantly, don’t become defensive.

3) There’s going to be stuff you throw away. Sometimes there’s one person who didn’t “get” something and they write that on your paper. But if it makes perfect sense to you and nobody else pointed it out, you can probably throw that observation away (unless you value this person’s opinion extremely and they’re way more intelligent than everyone else).

And of course there may just be differences of opinion. You might want to hold onto something that’s dear to you and doesn’t do anything for the workshoppers. As long as you’re not being pigheaded for no reason, that’s fine, too.

I’ve always had extremely good experiences being workshopped, and I know a lot of that comes from a good attitude and an open mind.

When it comes to workshopping, what are some things you’ve noticed? Do you get to do workshops/critiques very often?

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2 thoughts on “Being Workshopped

  1. I usually liked being workshopped in my college writing courses. The most fun one was when my story was an allegory for teen pregnancy, but none of them understood that. So they were critiquing it as if it were a straight-forward novel, and I was just sitting there listening. And then this one guy, who had been really quiet, said, “I think it’s a metaphor for pregnancy.” It was all I could do not to jump up and hug him. Even my teacher hadn’t picked up on it. It was definitely a fun experience.

    I like to think that I’ve gotten less defensive about my work over the years. I never reject anything outright, at least not without a very good reason. If someone tells me to change my genre and the whole meaning of my story (like the teacher did with the allegory story above), I won’t listen. But I’ve also learned that what sounds like someone just not “getting it” might actually be what turns my whole story around.

    1. That’s how I felt when two people “got” what I was trying to do with a certain scene. The number of people who didn’t get it tells me I probably need to do some clarifying, but I’m super happy that someone other than myself could see my vision. Best feeling in the world!

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