I’ve never been much for writing workshops. I think part of my aversion was from a short-story writing course that I took in college. The problem I had with that course was the format. You wrote two short stories, and each one was critiqued by the class while you sat there unable to speak or respond; the writer was left out of the discussion. It left me feeling more like a punching bag than a participant. The critique was rarely useful because, hey, these are students critiquing your work, not professional writers. Since then, I’ve participated in other (better) workshops, and learned even more about writing and publishing through seminars, online writing groups, discussions with fellow authors and helpful editors, and just plain working on it.
Recently I had the opportunity to pay forward what I’ve learned by volunteering as an assistant instructor for Allan Wold’s writing workshop at ConCarolinas. The first thing that surprised me about the workshop was that it was packed. With five instructors, 25 students, and two hours to give meaningful feedback, we had our work cut out for us. The second surprise was the format. For the initial fifteen minutes, the instructors left the room, and every student wrote the first one hundred words of a story. This sample had to include a person (character), a setting (environment), a conflict (or at least the start of one), action (not necessarily flash-bang action, but simply the character doing something), and a question (something that would make the reader want more). When the instructors returned, the students read their work aloud and received a quickie critique from each of the five panelists. We, as instructors, were told to be honest, positive, and not repetitive with our co-instructors. That was it.
I was astounded on several counts. First was the quality of the submissions. Only one or two made me cringe, and most made me want more. I’m fairly critical of what I read, so that’s really saying something. Second, the variety and thoughtful critique of my co-instructors was enlightening, both to the students and to me. Third, everyone took home something that they could apply to their writing. You could really see the lights going on around the room as we discussed what we liked and didn’t like, and made suggestions for improvement. The student took the lessons to heart, not only those regarding his/her own work, but also from the critiques of others’ works. There was no bashing, no ridicule, none of the negativity that I’ve experienced with some (bad) writers’ groups. A positive experience for everyone! Wow…what a win! Allan conducts workshops at several conventions a year. If you’re interested and want a good experience, look one up!
Let me know about your good or bad experiences with writing workshops!