Your writing workshop (mis)adventures

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I know some people who are both successful and awesome, so no, I don't think being a douchebag is necessarily a requirement.

I don't know much about how the Zoetrope thing works. But I do think getting your stuff workshopped by people you don't have a workshop (or friend) "relationship" with is sorta ... not-optimal, and if you're going to do it you have to be really mentally clear with yourself about what you're looking for.

When I say a workshop "relationship" I mean stuff like: a group of people you communicate with regularly, people who either know you or can get to know your writing, people where you read one another reciprocally and talk and figure out where you're all coming from -- the stuff that makes a workshop a productive and understanding group thing, instead of just drive-by commentary. It's like the difference between asking your friends for fashion advice and asking everyone in line at McDonald's.

So when I say "you have to be really mentally clear," I mean ... you'd have to be confident in what you're trying to achieve, and you'd have to be confident about weighing responses. For instance, if you asked everyone at McDonald's how you could dress better, and an Amish guy was like "wear linen!" and a mean old lady was like "cover your ankles, trollop!" and some rich people were like "you'd look great in this $8,000 sweater," you would know how much stock to put in each of these.

Sometimes it's helpful to think of responses less as "advice" or "criticism" and more like just a random sampling of how readers might react to what you've written. It says nothing about what your work should be like -- it's just a good way of learning how it'll come across. If you write something you think is funny, and only 1 out of 10 readers thinks it's funny, that doesn't necessarily mean you failed -- maybe being hilarious to an audience that "gets it" was roughly your goal! This is why you have to be clear on your goals before you get started: otherwise "90% of readers didn't think I was funny" will gnaw at you. But you'll never get 90% of readers to think anything is funny -- you're not trying to write something the entire universe will like. Most responses to Joyce would tell you it's nonsense; most responses to Twilight would tell you it's hokey. The best you can do is use that feedback to decide, like: is this coming across the way I thought it would and intended it to? Could I make it appeal to a few more people without changing what I really want it to do? If so, is that worth it? If I cover my ankles for the mean old lady, will I lose the attention of the woman who thinks I should show a little leg? If I make this metaphor clear to even the dimmest reader, won't the clever reader start feeling like I'm bashing her over the head with it?

Like really, don't think of it as a critique -- think of it like research. I don't know about you, but once I've spent enough time writing something, I'm not so sure how certain things will come across: pacing, "this section is less interesting than you think," "this change you thought you built up to actually comes out of nowhere," "you didn't have to spend 3 pages explaining this, we already knew" -- all that stuff can be helpful, for me anyway. And they're especially good for practice, like things about audience-response you can learn and internalize and then sit down to really do your thing.

oɔsıqɐu (nabisco), Saturday, 24 July 2010 00:36 (ten years ago) link

Haha also I skipped over the big thing: if you're getting critiques someplace that are all totally useless, then yes, screw that, right? You're better off getting a read from a friend who doesn't even read books -- at least they'll talk with you about what it felt like to read it -- than getting rote drive-by critiques from people who aren't even really engaging with what you wrote.

oɔsıqɐu (nabisco), Saturday, 24 July 2010 00:46 (ten years ago) link

my suggestion/my two cents: see if you can find a place to take a writing workshop nearby. even if the class sucks, you may meet some people who you can start your own workshop with.

Mr. Que, Saturday, 24 July 2010 00:59 (ten years ago) link

kate, whether that workshop will work for you will depend on what you need from it vs. what you get from it.

You'll pretty quickly sort out which members of the group have any kind of clue how to write an effective piece of their own, whether poem or story. That's a clue. More importantly, you'll discover which ones seem able to give your work a fresh hearing and honest reactions. If nobody there knows how to listen to or read anyone but themselves, or if they consistently try to remake you into an image of themselves, then they'll be next to useless.

If you are extremely lucky, then someone in the group will be able to see what your intentions are in a piece, then speak with insight about where your technique succeeds in delivering on those intentions and where it fails. That's the gold standard. You rarely get that, though.

P.S. Obv, try to do for others what you would like them to do for you.

Aimless, Sunday, 25 July 2010 15:48 (ten years ago) link

nine years pass...

Writing-wise, most ridiculous moment of decade was as writer-guest for a workshop held at someone's house. During the workshop, I got a massive headache & asked for aspirin. A woman gave me aspirin after which I began to itch. "Sorry--gave u my anti-itching pills by mistake." 1/?

— Jeff VanderMeer (@jeffvandermeer) December 28, 2019

mookieproof, Saturday, 28 December 2019 17:55 (nine months ago) link

The hell is up with writers

Swilling Ambergris, Esq. (silby), Saturday, 28 December 2019 17:59 (nine months ago) link

I once went to a workshop, held at a university, where a participant appeared for critique naked from the waist up and then stormed out of the because nobody was taking them seriously.

rb (soda), Monday, 30 December 2019 00:23 (nine months ago) link


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