by: Melanie Jones
Oh yes, workshopping is an activity all writers in a MFA Creating Writing program are subjected to. It can be nerve wracking, upsetting, fulfilling, and satisfying, all within one class. At times a writer may find it difficult not to take feedback personally, and in some cases you, your professor, and your classmates may flat out disagree. What’s important is understanding every workshop (good or bad) is part of the writing journey.
Keep in mind that you are paying tuition to attend a university and receive a master’s degree. Part of receiving this degree is going through the workshopping process proctored by your professor and carried out by your peers. In other words, you’re paying to be told what worked and what didn’t. No writer is perfect, not even best-sellers, and no matter how many times you rewrite something you will receive critiques.
When your piece is being workshopped it is very important not to fall in love with your first draft. Admit to yourself that it is impossible to get it perfect the very first time and your workshop will help you see the holes in your first draft that you cannot see on your own. Not every criticism has to make it into your next draft. Take what you find useful and incorporate it into your rewrite. If multiple people have the same issue with a certain section or choice, even if you disagree with them, take a few days to consider what they’ve said and how you can address the issue while staying true to your vision.
If you’re part of the group workshopping a fellow classmate’s piece it’s important to remain constructive and respectful at all times. Offering feedback like, “I just didn’t like this.” isn’t helpful. If you didn’t like something about the piece think of what tools and devices the writer could use to improve it. Make your criticisms academic. Suggest things like, “If you wrote this part in scene it would help the reader understand your main character’s motives better.” Keep in mind how it feels to have your writing critiqued and operate with the same type of respect you’d like from a fellow classmate.
Workshopping is often when something clicks for you and your writing style, but if you’re not receptive to feedback you will miss it. It’s also during this time when you become closer with your classmates. You learn from each other. While one person may be great with grammar, another is spectacular at character auditing. Regardless of their strengths, there is always (and I mean always) something to learn from every piece you have workshopped as well as every piece you workshop.
Look, criticism is scary, but if you remember the purpose isn’t to be judgmental but to be helpful, you’ll always come out the other side better than you were. At the end of the workshop you’ll usually have a chance to ask questions, and this is your opportunity to clarify any notes or suggested edits you didn’t understand so you can fully appreciate the feedback.
Once it’s all over and you start to incorporate the edits you like, you’ll realize how useful the process is to help flesh out your piece. From there you can enter it into literary magazines, contests, and more. And if you win, don’t forget to thank your classroom of editors.