Having been a student of literature and creative writing, I’ve had my fair share of workshops, five to be exact. The world of writing is one punctuated with ever growing polarizations of opinion and the workshop experience tends to be one of them. With anything, there will be those who will reap immense benefits out of the experience, while others will want to bury their heads into the sand with no desire to look back on the experience.
Oh, how I’ve got stories. I’ll just tell you this one though.
I took a fiction writing class my freshman year of college and boy was I stoked. The first day of class I had a new composition notebook and my favorite Pilot, extra fine, black ink pen. Excitement was building and I could hardly contain myself. As the weeks rolled by we all began to get a sense of each other’s writing through writing exercises. Our work ranged from the quietly detailed to outright Bukowski styled debauchery.
The real nitty-gritty came when we began to workshop our longer pieces of prose. I had written a story about a teenage girl who wanted to flee her topsy-turvy family life, for one of peacefulness. The girls confidant and source of happiness came from her golden retriever. My work was met with both praise and critiques, as any workshop worth a damn should, from my classmates. From my professor I was greeted with a pissed off
I was floored by her harshness and hostility. Her main critique being, “Your protagonist is unrealistic. Young girls have small pets like Yorkies, or Chihuahuas,” and “A mother wouldn’t remarry without the approval of her children.” I could’ve laughed myself into a straight jacket at that moment. Coming from a woman who wrote about a pimp in a zoot suit who lived in a major city solving mysteries (because we all know that happens), I found her critique a difficult pill to swallow.
My experiences since then have been a mixed bag, but hey, that’s par for the course. So, the question remains. Should I, or Shouldn’t I? This is a question without a unanimous answer, only varying schools of thought. For one thing, workshops can be beneficial. Similarly to what Georgette mentioned in her last post, part of the enjoyment to come from the experience will stem from managing your expectations.
If you’re expecting plethora of brilliant critiques which will be the key to writing this centuries masterpiece, well, you’re out of luck. What can happen is some nice people will offer up solid points and perspectives for which you can go off of when drafting your work. Another thing that could happen is you hating all of the critiques given.
Also, if you’re a seasoned, albeit poor writer, everyone in your class won’t be on your level. There will be newbs, those with incredible skill and talent, and at times those who write terribly and give terrible critiques thinking their writing is the best ever. Silly people.
Some writers have never and will never attend a workshop and are doing just fine. While some believe you’ll be nothing without the workshop. Feel free to question their sanity. It is no magical solution, but a useful tool if you can afford the price tag (most are priced anywhere from a few hundred and up). If you poor writers out there are considering, do your research and read as many reviews as possible.