Friday, July 17, 2020

Signs of A Good Writing Workshop

Prior to all the changes from this year's COVID crisis, I was a regular attendee of several writing workshops, as well as the facilitator of my own. This may sound like overkill, but on average, it worked out to spending a couple of nights a week dedicating myself to what I love. Honestly, is that too much time to spend improving one's self? Maybe, maybe not. Fortunately, my schedule allowed for it and my will to improve drove me to this length to achieve such an end. I think this gives me enough experience to share why workshops are so important to developing ourselves as writers, and to offer what I find valuable enough to dedicate two nights a week to doing.

First, let's be clear. Not all workshops are great. Some may even be grating. I have been to bad ones, and I have no compunction about dropping them from my routine. This is not a judgment based on what they said about my writing but about how they went about the business of helping writers grow, and I stick by it. For the groups I still go to, I promise that these groups uphold a set of standards that allows writers of all kinds to flourish. Here are some of the important ones:

A safe place: More power to the writer who can be open about their feelings and place them on a page to be shared with acquaintances and yes, even strangers. Ask anyone who has attended group therapy or an AA meeting, and they will explain to you that their openness is directly connected to a feeling that they are protected from attack and more importantly from judgment. This kind of environment is conducive to the young writer exploring feelings with more depth and touching upon sensitive truths that are the hallmarks of quality storytelling. If the members of a workshop do not give you that sense that you can reveal yourself as a writer, maybe another group might be better.

This is not to say that there won't be criticism. The difference is that judgment is an external proclamation of right or wrong, while criticism is (at the best of times) the expression of a differing but equal opinion. A good, safe workshop should be one that despises judgment but values criticism. Consider the difference between someone saying, "That was wrong," (judgment) versus "I didn't connect with it" (opinion). Except when it comes to rules of grammar and punctuation, writing is never wrong. People, however, can express disagreement and even why they did not connect. As long as that opinion is not held above the writer, and the discussion is constructive, the result is better writing (and possibly a more astute reader as well).

A place of growth: A workshop is a place of building and rebuilding, and the literary workshop is no different. The mindset of the group should always be one of, "What can I gain from this session?" and/or "What can I offer to those looking for help?" Being positive is always beneficial, but that doesn't mean complimenting a train wreck. Rather, there is always benefit in offering a few notes on story structure, description, character consistency, etc., to help flesh out weaknesses. I talk (sometimes too much) about the art of description, sometimes as a way to note how someone needs more in their writing. This way they not only think about making their writing better, but being a better writer. In this, there is growth.

Now, in these days of COVID, writing workshops are fewer and those that are still active have gone virtual.  They still carry the same rules as above, but some of their weaknesses have shown up as well. Monday I will discuss some of the things to avoid when participating in a workshop, and some of the workshops to avoid.

2 comments:

  1. I haven't read your next post, but I'm glad I am able to facilitate a hybrid writers group right now- even though the first one had a sound kink.

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    1. It was great to get the multimedia experience up and running -- kink or not.

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