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Writing Workshop Etiquetteby Audrey Wildhagen
It's amazing what you can learn once you've had a group of people look at your work. A writing workshop has no awkward pauses, no drama fits, and no brownnosing. Everyone seems to connect. Play your cards right and you can walk away from a writing workshop with a wealth of knowledge.
There are many ways to do a workshop. Some prefer that you bring your own copy and read it out loud. Others will insist that you bring a copy for everyone in attendance so that they may read it later in the week and bring it back next time, preferably with their notes scribbled all over. Either way, you're bound to kill a tree or two printing things out, I'm afraid. I would advise that you do your printing well in advance ' waiting until the last minute could result in you flailing around your local library or computer lab like a mad person while you frantically staple and sort. If you're unfortunate enough not to have a place that prints things for free, I would definitely invest in a few extra ink cartridges and some printing paper, because you will need them.
If you're a first-timer at a workshop, it can be very intimidating! Try not to worry. Nobody is going to eat you. It may feel like all anyone wants to do is tear your work apart and laugh in your face, but oftentimes they're feeling squeamish for the exact same reason you are. Here are a few tips to help ease the stage fright a little:
Those aside, try not to walk in the room as though you're on your way to court. Your fellow writers are there to help you, not nitpick you to death. One of the greatest things about workshops is that not only are they wonderful for getting your own work critiqued, but they teach you how to critique as well. This works well two ways ' both in giving suggestions and in critiquing your own work.
In time you will learn what advice to take and what advice to ignore. I won't say your ego won't take a blow or two in the process of deciding this, but, looking back, you'll be glad you bit the bullet. After all, it's generally better to hear about a mistake in a writing group than it is to read it on a rejection slip.
As a newcomer, there are a few signs you should watch out for in a workshop.
The number of people in attendance is crucial. Workshops with too few people tend to lack different ideas and suggestions, whereas workshops with too many people have the opposite effect ' there is an overwhelming amount of opinions begging to be expressed, some of which may clash with others, resulting in one very confused writer. Worse still, overly large writing groups tend to never finish - it's difficult to get through everyone's material in time.
If there is any prejudice shown toward any genre or writing style, run like mad. There will inevitably be someone who thinks that fantasy isn't a "real" genre or that all poetry should rhyme, but if you find yourself in a group where the majority thinks this way, get out of there.
Excessive Praise or Excessive Snarling.
Too much of either will only end up in a lot of conflict. A good writing workshop has a healthy balance of suggestions and praise, neither of which seem overly hostile or slavish. Again, there will be a few members who will sit there and whine about every single thing they see wrong with it, but if you find yourself listening to more arguments than you do discussions, it's time to pack up your notebook and leave.
Similarly, there will be members who make mindless goggle eyes at your work, and there will be some who feel they just don't have anything useful to contribute. This can kill a workshop as effectively as a screaming match ' there are few things worse than sitting there in silence as everyone twiddles their thumbs while they wait for someone else to speak up. Workshops should be exciting and electric, with opinions and ideas bouncing from one person to the other. Anything less than that isn't worth sitting through.
I will leave you with one last piece of advice: Keep your suggestions. Either write them down, or if your fellow workshoppers wrote on a copy of your manuscript, keep the notes. You never know when it will come in handy.
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