The Workshop

Why:

Writing happens in a bubble, but if you want your writing to improve, it can’t stay there. In a few short months we’ve seen how talking about our writing in a group has inspired us to write more, to push our limits, and to think critically about our writing. But because writing is so personal, it’s impossible to be completely objective about our own work. Sharing your work with other writers and being open to their feedback can make a huge difference in the quality of your writing.

The format:

  1. The writer receiving feedback does not speak.
  2. Readers take turns delivering feedback, preferably from the notes they took while reading the piece.
  3. When all the readers have had a chance to give feedback, the writer takes a moment to review the notes, answer any questions raised during Step 2, and ask questions of their own.
  4. At the end, everyone passes back their copies of the piece and any other written feedback to the writer.

Guidelines for the reader giving feedback:

  1. Read the piece thoroughly, once to get a feel for the story as a whole, and at least once more with a critical eye.
  2. Be on the lookout for:
    • structural issues
    • flat or inconsistent characterization
    • stilted dialogue
    • awkward or unclear phrasing
  3. Critique others as you would wish to be critiqued. That means:
    • Be compassionate. Not everyone handles criticism well.
    • But be honest. You’re here to help each other fine-tune your writing, and you’ll help no one if you’re afraid to offer constructive criticism.
  4. Ignore grammatical errors. While these can be distracting, they aren’t the substance of the story.
  5. Remember that this is not your story. You likely would have written it differently, but your job as a critique partner is to figure out what the writer is trying to do and help them fine-tune their story to achieve their goal. Your advice is just advice.
  6. Write it down! You’ve got a physical copy of someone’s story. Feel free to mark it up. There will never be enough time in a workshop to address every single thing you’d like to say about a piece, but your writer will appreciate your notes.
  7. In the workshop session:
    • Focus on major strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to give examples from the text.
    • Feel free to suggest changes or solutions to problems, but be mindful of how you frame them. A writer is going to be more receptive to “What if?” than “You should.”
    • Lead with a positive (an image you liked, a line that made you laugh, a character you related to, etc.). This will put the writer at ease, making them more receptive to your notes, and it’s just as important to hear which parts of a story work as which parts don’t.

Guidelines for the writer receiving feedback:

  1. Try to turn in a piece that’s as tidy as you can make it—at the very least, proofread your work both with and without spellcheck—so that you’re getting feedback on your best possible work, and so your readers won’t be distracted by errors and lose track of the substance of the story.
  2. No talking. Your job at this stage is to listen and take notes. If the reader has misunderstood something or there’s something you’d like to clarify, make a note and save it for the end.
  3. You don’t have to agree with every opinion or make every suggested change. This is your story, and it’s up to you to decide what’s right for it.
  4. But pay close attention if multiple readers stumble over the same things or have similar notes. This may indicate a weak point in your story.
  5. Keep your mind open and your ego relaxed. No story is perfect. Your story is not perfect. Someone is bound to have an opinion you don’t like, but this doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
  6. Once everyone has had a chance to offer feedback, take a moment to review your notes on what they’ve said. This is your chance to ask questions or clarify anything you think your readers may have misunderstood. Resist the urge to argue with every note you’ve received. This is a workshop, not a debate.

 

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman

 

2 thoughts on “The Workshop

  1. Really enjoyed your talk on the fine art of giving and receiving feedback for the purpose of useful work shopping. I can’t wait until we have an opportunity to give this a shot at our next meeting. I’ve begun reading the submissions and i’m very impressed so far with the stories and characters our writers have produced.

    Liked by 1 person

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