24 August 2011

Writing Workshops For The Win

This past Monday, I completed my first writing workshop in the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars downtown Washington D.C. This was a fantastic experience; I learned so much and am totally sold on the value of exchanging critique reads with other writers. I'm now sad because I will only be taking two more workshop courses in the program.

Workshops: What It's All About

  1. Motivation. Deadlines are a great motivator for many writers, and especially for me.
  2. Feedback. Getting feedback on my best-draft (the best piece of writing I can create on my own, without input from others) from 10+ different people is amazing! So much information from readers!
  3. Written critiques by other writers. They tell me what is working (apparently I am witty?) and they tell me what is kind of not working and they give me suggestions for improvement! That last bit is pretty invaluable.
  4. In-class discussion about my work. Imagine 10+ writers who have read your writing discussing it and talking about what is and is not working and ideas to improve it. Terrified? Yeah, but they're generally really nice about it and genuinely excited about where I can go with the piece. So freaking helpful! And I get to ask 10+ writers who have read my work about specific questions I have. Is the ending cliche? What did you mean by this comment you made earlier? Now I get why some authors have test groups of readers. You pretty much cannot write in complete seclusion.
  5. Critiquing other writers' work. Maybe this seems like it would be the boring part. It's not helping me, right? WRONG. Every week I got to read a best-draft by another writer. Everybody approaches writing differently. And writing a critique of someone else's work makes me think very analytically about craft, in a way I normally do not. It makes me really notice what other people's strengths are. Wow, look what she's doing with the transition here. That's cool. I wonder if I could do something like that.
  6. Revisions. Never before have I done a true revision; I am convinced of this. Minor line edits and sentence nitpicking...no, I am talking about completely turning the whole piece on its head. There's no way I could have done something like that without the perspectives and input of my fellow writers. They always had great suggestions and ideas. And as a reader of my piece, they could more easily see what wasn't working. I would come home at 10 pm from my turn at workshop too keyed up on adrenaline to fall asleep.
Conclusion: Other writers are your friends. And if you can get some to give you some really good critiques--and take their input seriously--you can break through the ceiling of the limitations of solitary writing. And reciprocate! Writers are generous!

I have no idea how I'm going to write when I'm done with workshops. Hopefully I'll figure out something by then...anybody want to be my friend?

Now You!
Have you had experience exchanging critiques with other writers? How do you get reader perspectives?