Friday, January 7, 2011

Back from Holiday and Off to a Running Start; Workshopping

Happy New Year, blogosphere! I have just found my computer buried underneath the piles of work that have accumulated during our holiday breaks and thought I would provide an update before I dive back in and attempt to save Lyla from being overcome by paper cuts and writer's cramp.

As the headline states, this year has started off fast. I am finishing up my Master's in English Language and Literature this Spring and have also joined a local writer's workshop, both of which are keeping much busier than I have been of late, especially when added onto our usual workload here at the office. Now that I have gotten my ill-conceived attempt at a segue out of the way, today's topic will involve workshops and why I think they are an integral part of the writing process.

For those who have never been a part of a writer's workshop, it's a group of people who wish to hone their craft by providing their work for critique by other people as well as critiquing the works of others. No writer is good right away. It's a painful reality that each of us must come to terms with before we can be anything other than an amateur. No work comes out gleaming gold, but instead requires tweaking to make an okay work into a great one. Finally, no writer writes from a vacuum, and no published work ever entered into a vacuum; a writer may as well get a test-run or two or three or twenty of their work before they try to send it out to an agent or publisher. That's where a workshop comes in handy.

There are many web equivalents of a writer's workshop out there, but there seems to be a preponderance of Poetry ones. Yet, some people (me, for example) prefer the intimacy that face-to-face contact offers when getting their work critiqued. Meeting with people in real life provides a connection with them, where they get to know your work and can provide you with constructive criticism that grows with you as a writer. They can provide feedback on what you consider your weakest points to be, letting you know when you have improved upon them and when you need work harder. With a face-to-face workshop, you're not just a faceless writer of just one more work a person may have skimmed through or simply commented "tl;dr." This brings me to my second point for face-to-face workshopping: it cuts down on trolls, who will comment on your work solely to rile you up or cut you down.

A workshop that meets on a regular basis can also encourage you to write more steadily, for it will provide a deadline that you must meet in order to have a piece to be critiqued when it comes your turn. A workshop provides a place for you to constructively critique another person's work, helping them to grow as a writer. The great thing about this last part is that it also helps you to become a greater writer, for it lets you see your strengths and weaknesses when compared to other people's work. Comparing your work to that of those you know provides realistic goals for you, allowing you to evolve your craft rather than just give up when you don't suddenly write on par with a bestselling author. You can also find things that you like about another person's work, which you can attempt to emulate in your own work (such as tone, pacing, structure, etc.) or learn from their mistakes and avoid having to make them yourself. Finally, a workshop can provide a great place for support for your writing, whether you just want it to be a hobby or intend to make it a career.

Next post, I will go over some rules of etiquette that should help a writer's workshop go smoothly and with minimal bruising of pride.

Also: Tune in for our upcoming segments, new this year: Weekly Writer Roundup, where we will provide links to other blogs that we found interesting and helpful in the ways of writing.

Zach U.

PS: Has anyone seen my stapler?

Edit: If you're wondering how/where to find writer's workshops in your area, I would suggest checking such websites as Craigslist, MeetUp, and the like.