“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
So what exactly is Workshop Wednesday? Well, it’s going to be an ongoing discussion of ways to read and critique (and hopefully improve) writing. Basically, I’m going to be drawing on my experiences in writing workshops through undergraduate and graduate studies and sharing them with you all. These posts are for everyone, whether you’re wondering how you can give good feedback to a writer friend, or whether you’re a writer yourself and want to find new ways to look at your writing. Hopefully these discussions will be helpful. And hopefully seeing a compelling first line in each post will inspire you to write your own, or to read the rest of that story!
Well, Happy New Year everyone! I’m a little late to the party on this one because I’ve been really sick since the weekend (no parties for me ). But you’ve all seen my blogging resolutions, so here’s hoping for a great year in 2012!
Anyway, so far in Workshop Wednesdays I’ve given advice for the reader giving critique as one person. Hopefully this has been helpful for those of you with a workshop/critique partner gig. But I realized today I haven’t really addressed being in a workshop or a critique group itself. That is to say–how do you handle critiques within groups of people?
I could go over all of the different aspects of workshop etiquette, but I think I’ll just focus on one aspect for the moment. And that’s speaking up. I think this one is really important. You see, it might happen in a workshop that there will be people who speak more and people who speak less. This is okay. I would encourage you as someone with a critique in mind to speak up, no matter which extreme you tend toward.
Some people might think it’s silly to confirm something that’s already been said. I think it’s actually helpful for the writer in question to see that there is some kind of consensus. I know it might be hard for you shy folks, but think about how that writer would feel if you didn’t contribute to workshop. If you say something, even if it’s to agree with someone else, it shows that you care about that writer’s project and respect the writer enough to share your opinion.
If you’re in a situation where you’re submitting written critiques as well, don’t feel that speaking up is redundant. Sure, the writer will have the written comments to turn to, but there’s something that happens in workshop discussion that is magical and can’t be captured by a short paper that was written beforehand. You never know when bringing up a point or an observation might lead to a discussion that can change the way the writer looks at his or her own work. In fact, my recent workshops worked so well because they were interactive. The group as a whole would come up with ways I could approach certain problem areas, and even though it was kind of intense, it was also really, really helpful. It could not have happened on paper, in just one person’s critique.
As someone who used to be super quiet in workshop, I understand if you feel shy. There are so many reasons why someone might not want to speak in workshop. Mine was a fear of sounding stupid. I was scared to counter what someone said very eloquently, because I was afraid of being wrong and falling flat on my face. I also thought that my own observations were trivial and unimportant. But I was so, so wrong on all counts. Every reader brings something different to the table, and should not be discounted for a different point-of-view. If you want to counter someone’s point, I say counter. Not for the sake of argument, but for the sake of the writer. The writer is ultimately the person making the decisions about the story, and knowing different sides of one issue is vital. I’ll admit that I sometimes make observations about changes that could help a story, then someone will note that while I have a point, the change can be handled with a sentence or two. Well, good! Now the writer’s not scrambling around and worrying about trying to change this one thing over the course of a hundred pages. And now I have also learned that certain issues don’t have to be big writing issues. Everyone wins.
So those are some reasons why you should speak up in workshops/critique groups. Trust me, I had the worst time trying to be more vocal in workshops. But once I warmed up to my group, I enjoyed contributing more and more. Like anything, it takes practice. And remember, everyone else is there to help the writer, just like you.