26 Ways Writers Can Make a Workshop Successful

What makes a quality workshop?

Mainly it’s the writers and how those writers interact.

Each writer is responsible for making the critique environment productive. But not every writer knows what this responsibility entails and how to get results.

Over the years, I’ve participated in many, many workshops. And in May 2014, I created a virtual workshop called Write Draft Critique. Doing so reminded me of ways to make the experience more worthwhile.

Below are the best ways I’ve found to create great critique environments.

Many are simply things each writer should consider and keep in mind during, or before, his or her attendance. These aren’t exclusive to workshops and can be used in a variety of critique environments. But all are useful if not essential.

Ways to Make Critique Sessions And Workshops Successful:

1. Always focus on helping each other to be better writers, readers, and critics.

2. Bring professionalism to the quality of all your critiques and interactions even if the work in progress or the author does not exhibit the same level of professionalism.

3. If you only like to read certain genres, seek out critique environments that explore those genres. Don’t participate in broad critique groups.

4. Before you commit to the workshop, ask yourself if you have the time to read, analyze, and critique the work of your peers plus prepare your own submissions. Can you meet all the deadlines? How many hours a day can you dedicate to the workshop?

5. Know the terminology writers, editors, and critics use to discuss literature and stories.

6. Write constructive, helpful critiques. “I liked it” and “I didn’t like it” are unhelpful if you don’t explain why while using examples from the writing. It helps to focus on the reasons why it does or does not work as a story, chapter, or article.

7. Someone already say what you were going to say? Say it anyway. It’s extremely helpful to know if folks had the same reaction.

8. Don’t want line edits and grammar corrections? Note what you want us to focus on in the body of your post or at the top of your MS.

9. After we’ve read your submission, sometimes it helps to tell us what your intentions were and ask us if they were clear.

10. Often we come across taboo subjects in people’s work: violence, sex, abuse, rape, religion, politics etc. Material with these subjects, although potentially challenging, still requires your professionalism and a quality critique.

11. Is one submission different from anything you’ve ever read before? Does it break with convention? Before you shoot it down, first try to understand it. Ask yourself if the differences are intentional.

12. Take arguments and personal disagreements outside the workshop. (Author and filmmaker Garrett Robinson has a great video on this.)

13. Communicate. Can’t make a deadline? Need to leave the workshop for a while? Need to quit? Always be courteous to your fellow writers and let them know.

14. Do not neglect your critique responsibility just because you don’t like or agree with the subject, genre, style, or author.

15. The workshop or the critique group isn’t the place to justify or defend one’s work. It’s a place to listen and consider. You can privately reject or integrate advice later.

16. Remember if people rip your work up and shoot it down, no matter how personal it feels, it isn’t. Adversity is an opportunity for you and your work to grow. It almost never feels good, but it can be essential to improvement, and it thickens your skin. So eat bullets for lunch. Over time, they get easier to swallow.

17. Sometimes following everyone’s suggestions is a big mistake. Pick and choose what works best for your stories. Use your judgment and your instinct.

18. Critique the writing, not the author or the story idea or the genre. (Unless otherwise specified by the author.)

19. Clarification. If you don’t understand a critique, edit, or comment, politely ask people what they meant. And do so every time it happens. It pushes folks to be clearer and creates wonderful discussions about the work. (It also adds to your own understanding.)

20. Aim to leave yourself time to draft, polish, and work your writing to a point where you get stuck or it’s as good as you can get it or you have questions about it.

21. You have to want the workshop to succeed. You have to want your peers to succeed.

22. Do your best to critique and submit on time. “Deadlines are a writer’s best friend” is an old newspaper adage. Being held accountable is one of the best benefits of a workshop.

23. For story lovers, discussing and analyzing stories should be fun. So have fun!

24. Always tell the truth in critiques. And do so nicely and to the best of your ability.

25. Know the difference between sugar coating and genuine encouragement.

26. Remember, you are the final decision-maker when it comes to your writing. You don’t have to take anyone’s advice if you don’t want to.

What else makes a workshop successful?

100 Helpful Terms for Writers to Have on Hand

100 Helpful Terms for Writers to Have on Hand

Below is a list of terms that help writers discuss and think about what they read and write.

Understanding these terms is particularly helpful when critiquing the work of your peers in a writer workshop or a critique group.

The list is not comprehensive. And I did not include definitions. But I encourage you to familiarize yourself with these terms. Look them up, but don’t rush through them. Take your time learning which ones will be most useful to you.

Did I miss an important one? Write it in the comments, and I’ll include it the next time I update this list.

Abstract Concept (vs. Concrete)
Accent
Act
Action
Allegory
Alliteration
Allusion
Anachronism
Antagonist
Anticipation
Antihero
Antiheroine
Archetype
Artistic License
Authority
Backstory
Cadence
Catalyst
Catharsis
Character
Character Arc
Characterization
Chronology
Cliffhanger
Climax
Code-Switching
Colloquial Language
Concrete Concept (vs. Abstract)
Conflict
Connotation
Continuity
Convention
Craft
Delusion
Denotation
Denouement
Dialect
Dialogue
Diction
Didactic
Drama
Dramatic Tension
Dream
Dream Sequence
Empathy
Epilogue
Epiphany
Episodic
Esoteric
Euphemism
Expository
Fantasy
Figurative
Filter Words
Flashback
Foreshadow
Gimmick
Gobbledygook
Grammar
HEA (“Happily Ever After” Ending)
Head Hopping
HFN (“Happy For Now” Ending)
Homage
Humor
Hyperbole
Illusion
Imagery
In medias res
Infodump
Interior Monologue
Irony
Linear Narrative
Linguistic
Literary Device
Lyrical
Metaphor
Mixed Metaphor
Monologue
Motif
Motivation
Mythic
Narrative
Narrator
Nonlinear Narrative
Obfuscate
Parable
Personification
Plot
Plot Twist
Plot-Theme
Poetic
Poetic License
Point of View (POV)
Preface
Premise
Prologue
Protagonist
Psychological
Punctuation
Rapport (with the reader)
Rhyme
Rhythm
Running Gag
Satirical
Scene
Sequence
Setting
Setup
Showing (vs. Telling)
Simile
Story Arc
Style
Subplot
Summary
Superfluous
Surprise
Symbol
Taboo
Technique
Telling (vs. Showing)
Theme
Three-Act Structure
Tone
Traditional
Trope
Usage (as in word usage)
Verbose
Visceral
Voice

Updated 4/15/2014: Anachronism, Archetype, Artistic License, Authority, Backstory, Chronology, Climax, Continuity, Dream Sequence, Epilogue, Foreshadow, Gobbledygook, Nonlinear, Obfuscate, Poetic License, Preface, Prologue, Setup, Superfluous, Technique.

Updated 4/16/2014: Antihero, Antiheroine, Character Arc, In medias res, Subplot.

Update 5/12/2014: Filter Words.

Update 9/08/2014: HEA (“Happily Ever After” Ending), Head Hopping, HFN (“Happy For Now” Ending). Special thanks to Laura Roberts for these suggestions.