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?