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The Pros and Cons of Writing Workshops

Updated on March 2, 2012

What is a Writing Workshop?

A writing workshop is when a group of aspiring writers(whether they be focusing on poetry, short stories, novels, plays, etc.) get together to exchange,share, and peer review one another's work. Workshops can be done with other crafts as well.

My Worries of Workshop

This semester, I needed to take a writing intensive class and since I had always dreamed of writing a novel one day, I thought that Creative Writing could help me improve my skills.

The only thing I was a little hesitant about was the fact that it was a writing workshop class. I've never been very outgoing and I've always hated sharing drafts of my work. It's not because I think they are bad, but more because I'd rather someone see the finished product. It makes me feel naked having someone witness my whole thought process. I also feared that I would have to face much better writers than myself and that my work would be made fun of, or something along those lines. I knew I would have to be working with things like poetry and drama, which were not in my area of expertise nor my comfort zone.

In my particular workshop, every single person in the class is required to critique your work in one paragraph, being very detailed in what your strong points are and what you should work on.

As it turns out, the writing workshop ended up being quite helpful and it was entertaining to see everyone's different styles of writing. It did, however, also have a few downsides.

Pros

  • You get many different perspectives on your writing.
  • When you critique the writing of others, it helps you learn what to look for in your own.
  • You learn what things you may need to expand upon more,because even though you might understand what you're writing about, it's not always as clear to the reader.
  • You discover your strong points. Everyone tends to compliment what they like, and if you get many of the same compliments, you know what you're doing that works. For me, it's imagery.
  • You also discover what needs work. There were some pieces that were so vague, you couldn't be entirely sure what was going on, but with all the comments to be more concrete, I'm sure the writer's work has greatly improved.
  • You get more ideas. I had a poem that I was just about to toss away, but everyone was full of suggestions on how I could expand on what I already had and it helped me to write a great poem.
  • You realize that there is always room for improvement, no matter how great you may think your piece is.
  • You can make some friends. One usually joins workshops because they are interested in that subject in some way and when you're constantly in contact with everyone in the workshop, friendships can form.
  • They can help you feel proud of your work. As someone who puts so much time and effort into what they write, it's always nice to hear praise and compliments.
  • You can get your writing out there. Often times teachers of workshops will suggest readings or ways for more people to hear your writing. It's really helpful if you aspire to make something of yourself with your writing.

Cons

  • No matter what you do, some people will just not understand what you're writing about. I had this poem that the teacher believed to be perfect and straight to the point, but almost half of the class did not understand it.
  • Sometimes people will want you to change your entire piece. I originally had a poem about a grumpy critic who hated everything and then finally came across a movie that just AMAZED him, but everyone wanted me to just focus on the cranky critic who hates everything. It ended up changing my poem for the best, but I still didn't like that my whole concept was changed.
  • You have to really read some bad pieces of work and learn how to see the potential in them. You can't just tell a person "I hate this" and leave it at that.
  • Sometimes you have to follow prompts. I really hate having to base something off a prompt, especially when I have many ideas flowing into my mind that have nothing to do with them.
  • When the teacher gives tells you to change something, you pretty much have to in order to get a good grade. Once again, in my critic poem, she felt that my new ending(which I absolutely loved) wasn't working. I don't want to change it, but I have to.
  • Sometimes it can be subjective. You can find that you're critiquing poems based on the types of poems that you like. When it's really not about you and vice versa.
  • Sometimes people want you to cut out your favorite parts, even though it would kill you to do so and can often give you a negative attitude to your work after that.
  • Your work can be considered to abstract. I had a poem with the line "Post Apocalyptic" and apparently that was too abstract and I should cut it out completely. I feel like a lot of famous poems I have read in my lifetime ARE abstract, so it really frustrates me that mine can't be.


An Example.

Here is the original draft of my poem, "The Critic", and then my most recent draft of the same poem. As you can see, everyone's suggestions greatly improved the poem. The prompt for this poem was also "sound" in case you were wondering. As in playing around with assonance, aliteration, and rhyme.

Original Version

I'm off to the movies
or should I say,
to work.

I come with low expectations
as I always do.
Rare is there a film
that deserves a good review.

But this "Rules of the Rise"
I did not desire to blink my eyes.

The performances--
Riveting!
My emotions are--
Riled.

The special effects
rendering me speechless
as their sounds ricochet
through surround sound
speakers.

Most Recent Version

I'm off to the movies--
or should I say,
to work.

I wear my scowl
and drag my shoes,
Rare is there a film
that deserves a good review.

At the ticket window,
it's Bobby
that blonde pretty boy again,
sighing at the sight of me.

He rips off the ticket
I'll later rip to shreds.
"Enjoy your film, sir".
God,
I'd rather be dead.

This thought stays with me
as the film reel rolls.
How many big breasted bimbos
can you possible show
without wearing
a lick of clothes?

Oh, you hated that arrogant asshole,
but now you're in love?
Girl, please.
I've seen more depth and chemistry
in a decaying block of cheese.

My acting skills were far superior
inside my mother's womb
and I've seen more emotional range
in the crust between my toes.

"Boo," I grumbled.
Drunk on popcorn
as I threw a handful at the screen.

"Shh!"
Everyone hissed.
"If you don't like it,
just leave."

Oh but leave I did not.
I suffered all two hours
as though I was thrust back
into childhood,
waiting for that recess bell.

I whistled, I dozed.
I made an origami crane.
I kicked the seat in front of me.
I checked the scores of the game.

What?
It's more interesting
than this predictable scene.
Declarations of love,
an abnormally long and passionate kiss.
They drive off into the sunset.

They drive off into the sunset.
See, predictable.

Hands in my pockets,
trademark scowl.
Pretty boy Bobby stops me
on the way out.

"How'd you like it, Sir?"
He asks dutifully.
I shrug my shoulders.

"Not bad, actually."

My teacher wants me to completely change the ending to this poem. She states that it is just "contradictory, rather than funny". I really liked it, and I have no idea how I would change it. It really just kind of frustrates me, now. 

Want to join a writers workshop?

Do you have a passion for writing and want to join a workshop to help you improve your skills? There are workshops all over the country, that merely a simple search on Google could find you very quickly. You don't have to be at a university to take part in one.

You also, don't even have to join a workshop if you don't want to. With the internet these days, you can simply post your work online and get critique that way. Just be wary, because I've had short stories of mine plagiarized. There's nothing more frustrating than someone claiming credit for your hard work.

Anyway, best of luck in your writing either way!

Have you been in a writing workshop?

What are your experiences? Do you have any pros and cons that you might add to my list? Any suggestions on my poem?

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