On Writing

Paws and Prose: A Workshop for Writers

writer's workshop; story feedback

What is a workshop

A workshop for writers (or a writer’s workshop) is a place where you gather and share your work with other writers. A place to talk about your latest creative piece – often, spotting the obvious errors. But it touches upon many of the creative writing processes. Editing, developing ideas and getting detailed feedback are just a few things that workshopping provides. But like everything, it has disadvantages.

The disadvantages of a workshopT

This includes: Bad Feedback and workload

Bad Feedback

Bad Feedback isn’t like negative criticism. It is the lack of helpful feedback. You may get the occasional comment that says “This is great” but nothing that says you need to change anything or highlighting what doesn’t work. It is extremely annoying when this happens and often you feel like you are interrogating the person when you ask them for more feedback and advice.

The Workload

Workload can also be a problem. You may have someone with very little work and so everyone is trying to stretch their piece around to account for the people who have not come. Or They may have written more than the rest and so most people’s attention is on the bigger piece rather than the smaller pieces of work.

These can prove challenging in the professional world. However, workshopping also have advantages.

Neutral

Groups

Working in groups is great, especially at my university where everyone is trying to absorb as much feedback as possible. However, this is my last year, the network we have built will start to break up and we are going to have to find workshops out in the real world. This is going to be a hard task as I will probably have to find a new network – try it out and hope it works for me as each workshop group is different.

Another issue that working in groups can present is that sometimes you may end up in one that is not responsive. You give someone the work and when it comes back, there is hardly anything squibbed on there.

On the other hand, group work also has its benefits.

The Advantages

These include: editing, the development of ideas and detailed feedback.

Editing

Editing is the one that is most associated with a workshop as the work is passed in the group There are two kinds of way editing works. The one where you edit someone else’s work, Lish style. Maybe you’ll talk to the writer as you do it, or if you are like me after you have done it. Pointing out errors that are not easy to see when proofreading it yourself.  I personally find this helps to highlight my weaknesses and strengths.

For example, maybe someone uses too many short sentences that the work becomes too fast that the story does not develop properly – or if they use too many long sentences, the work may read too slow that it becomes tedious and the story does not develop at a good pace.

Editing Zone

Then there is the self-editing way of editing. You have your story, maybe it’s a draft and you tell people your ideas. Listen to or read theirs. Your brain is then in a sort of zone, so when you read your own work you can spot mistakes or issues that are similar to the ones you found in another writer’s story. In a way, it’s bouncing off from the people around you. Listening to what they say and what you tell them and then applying it to your own work.

I find this helps to refine and find your style. However, this part of the workshop does not always have to include peer feedback. It is perfectly fine to sit with a group of people, editing your work by yourself as they work on their pieces too. This helps to encourage writing as everyone else is writing. It’s great at getting you to look at your work thoroughly and refine the piece to your liking. It also makes the writer a better editor as they work through other writers’ pieces.

But editing is just one of the benefits of the workshop.

Developing Ideas

I often find that meeting with other people help me to clearly see my ideas, form my work and realise what does and does not work. I can talk to the group about an idea I have and see it clearer than I did before. This helps me get my thoughts together before I even start writing my piece.

An example of this is the movie I was going to write for my lectuter. Originally, it was going to be about a father in the early 18th century, who’s lost money through a failed shipping, the taxes were increased by the day and the shipping would have helped him stay afloat and pay for his rent. On top of this, his son was dying from poor nutrition. This led him to miss his rent payments and steal bread to keep his son alive. But then he turns to the life of piracy to stop his son from dying and find a better life.

The story is fine until the character runs to sea because it’s a story people can relate to. But when he turns to piracy, people are going to question how that will give him and his family a better life. I feel this could be shown in a work of prose. But in a 90-minute feature film, it cannot be shown as clearly. I could see this problem before I started my script, and so could others.

Be Prepared to Make Changes

So, with help from people in the group, we kept the majority of the story the same, only the character does not become a pirate. He lives in the late Georgian, early Victorian era during the industrial revolution. The character owns a chandlery, he makes his candles by hand and lives in what used to be the small town of Birmingham.

So, he would be right in the centre of the industrial revolution, affected by all the factories sprouting up over the place. The health issues that bought to Birmingham and would be trying to keep his little business open during a time of mass production.

It’s great and it has really helped me develop my piece.

Detailed & Critical Feedback

Another benefit that workshopping offers is giving detailed and critical feedback on a piece. This is similar to editing but people point out what works and what doesn’t work. They say what needs more developing and whether they like your style and voice. Often this leaves the writer with an idea of what their voice is, what their genre is and probably more importantly, what kind of writer they are as they go on to develop their pieces.

Learn to Take Feedback

Maybe this is the most important one. I find that my years at university, workshopping my piece has taught me how to take feedback. Yes, there are times I think the person giving me comments on my piece has misread my work. Or their comments do not make sense. Nevertheless, I appreciate their comments, thank them and move on to the feedback of another person.

I still consider the feedback I disagree with because maybe they have a point that is not expressed in the comment. Or maybe I can make my work read clearer by looking at their comment in another angle. If not, only then is it disregarded.

There’s no point arguing with someone who has given you feedback because they gave you an honest feedback. Which is, I’d hope, you’d want from them. And so a professional writer learns to take all feedback and nod a thank you even to the most “ridiculous” comments because they may help in other ways.

Conclusion

So as a whole, workshopping has many benefits. To me, it is one of the most important processes you can have as a professional writer. It has many benefits, such as improving your editing skills, helping to structure your idea and learn more about you as a writer. It is a great way to edit, write and improve your own work and learn from others.


Thanks for Reading

Sorry for the song in the Be Prepared to Make Changes part… It got stuck in my head because of the section. So. I thought I’d share it so you all can suffer. But you do have to admit the song is appropriate. And Scar would be great at pitching a novel!

So, Scar is the author and the Hyenas are the fans waiting for the instalment. Afterall, they talk about creativity… listen to it, you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post on a writer’s workshop. Please feel free to have a look at my other writing posts.

Don’t forget to find us on Facebook and Twitter 🙂

~Shannon~

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