Authorial Intrusion: Attending a Writing Workshop (Part 1)

I’m just coming off a terrific week. I attended a writing workshop, my first in more than a decade. I was nervous at the outset, but soon the week settled into a nice (if tiring) rhythm. It was a win all around: I received invaluable feedback on my novel-in-progress, met some great writers, and learned new techniques.

The best part? I feel invigorated, ready to tackle current and future writing projects with enthusiasm.

Here are five tips if you’re considering attending a writing workshop.

  • Think about what you want. There are so many options out there. Ask yourself what you want to take away from this experience. Be honest! Do you want:
    • feedback on your current writing project?
    • craft lectures?
    • to meet literary agents?
    • to mingle with other writers?
    • quiet writing time?

The workshop I attended offered many of the above items, but there was no set writing time. In fact, the schedule was so jam-packed, I often spent what little downtime we had in a daze. That brings me to the next point.

Virginia Woolf's Writing Desk

Virginia Woolf’s Writing Desk via The Guardian

  • Know what you’re getting yourself into. You’re going to be out of your comfort zone. Plenty of people you don’t know will be reading your work. Maybe you’ve come to the workshop from out of town. There might be a (gasp!) mixer. It can be scary. Read the details about the workshop, including the fine print.
    • How are the days structured?
    • Will you have “homework,” e.g. reading workshop submissions in preparation for the next day?
    • What is expected of you? What level of participation is needed?
    • What is the participant-to-teacher ratio? Is it reasonable for this type of workshop?
    • How many participants will there be? How diverse is it?
    • Are “big name” authors/agents/editors important to you?
    • Do you want to attend a venerable workshop (read: very competitive), or are you willing to go for the scrappy upstart (read: possible bumps in the road)?

If you poke around on the workshop’s website, you should be able to find the answers to most of these questions. Be wary of vague statements and no contact info.

  • Get behind the scenes. Once you’ve narrowed your options, the best way to find out about the workshop is to ask someone who has been. Don’t rely on the blurbs posted to the workshop website. Post the question on social media and follow up privately to make sure this is the right workshop for you.
  • Understand that fellow participants and teachers are there to help you…but not coddle you. If you’re seeking a lot of one-on-one attention, it might be better to attend a formal class or hire an editor. If you’re seeking unabashed praise, it might be better to ask your mother. (Thanks, Mom!)
  • Be generous. Most workshops ask that you offer feedback to other writers. This is such an important part of the process, it is not to be taken lightly. I’d argue that you can learn as much or more by giving than receiving. If you’re not at the stage where you are ready to give thoughtful comments on another writer’s work, consider postponing to a future workshop.

Here is a link to upcoming workshops in the US and Canada. 

Next time, I’ll have some specific details on what to expect during the critique sessions. Until then, do you have any tips for attending a writing workshop? Have you attended a workshop recently?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

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29 comments

  1. I’ve attended Gotham Writing Classes, Jackie and met some wonderful writers, some of whom I still keep in contact with despite my not living in NYC any longer. I think some workshops and classes are very helpful if for nothing else but to get some solid feedback and critiques, and well, WRITE. :).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Jackie. Great tips. It is exhausting and invigorating at the same time. Have you ever gone on a writing retreat? One of the best ones I’ve attended is at Ragdale, outside of Chicago. Vermont Studio Center was also very good. Generosity is so important. I’m glad you mentioned it. People who are stingy with feedback or that have a superior attitude should be forewarned that this is not part of the workshop/retreat code of behavior! So glad you had the chance to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two of my fellow participants mentioned Ragdale. Both had a wonderful experience there. I’d love to go on a retreat. Imagine: a few weeks of uninterrupted time to write? Heaven! 🙂

      Another participant was on her way to Vermont Studio. My hat was off to her for doing both workshops within the same month!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like Brigitte, I’ve attended writing workshops at Gotham, specifically the playwriting workshops. I was prepared to try to get the most out of it i.e., I never missed a class, I did all the assignments, I tried to give thoughtful feedback to other students. What I didn’t anticipate was the sky high no show rate by the end. The class started packed and ended with a trickle. That was disappointing, but I think that’s a reflection of how flaky people are. It sounds like your workshop was full of dedicated writers. I can see how being in that type of environment could be very inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I nearly missed your comment! After the week, I was exhausted but energized at the same time, if that makes sense. It was an intense week and the schedule was packed, often until 8 or 9 at night.
      Other than the high number of folks who dropped the class, did you have a good experience at Gotham?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can understand you feeling both exhausted and energized after investing a tremendous amount of yourself in this experience. Gotham was a very good experience and at times, I felt exhilarated. I put so much energy and effort into those classes and I became very good friends with my instructor, a guy I call Albee on my blog. I wrote two plays: a tiny speck of one and a long form work that took me over a year to finish. I did all this playwriting before I started writing Lame Adventures. Now that I post on my blog so sporadically, I am seriously considering writing another play. I waffle back and forth about that. Plays are written to be staged. I know I lack the pedigree of professional playwrights, I’m aged out and plays are not meant to be read. The thought of putting so much effort into work with a 99.9% probability that it’s destined to sit on a shelf seems absurd. I should probably resume writing my site or just focus on essays after I complete renovating my home, the project that has overwhelmed my life for the past year.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know if I ever told you, Jackie, that my youngest, Gwen, is getting her MFA in Creative Writing. She just started as fiction editor of the school’s journal as part of her assistant-ship this year.

        I fell into writing because I love words, but I don’t know a damn thing about how it works. I think that lack of knowledge is what keeps me from actively tackling the 5 book projects I’ve been dabbling with for several years. That and the previously mentioned laziness, which is a huge impediment – I’m not gonna lie.

        I am in awe of people like you and Gwen, who actually understand the mechanics of good writing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, I didn’t know that she was in an MFA program. How great for her! By now, she is probably all-too-familiar with the workshop format. Keep me posted on how things are going for her at the literary journal.

        There are many days when I’d rather binge-watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix than write. Also, my apartment tends to get very clean when I’m procrastinating. 🙂

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      1. Thanks for taking the time to read it! I enjoy the research aspect — maybe a bit too much because sometimes it keeps me from getting down to writing. I’d learned that there had been a riot in NYC to try to keep doctors from using cadavers in research. That got me thinking about a person who might be in the business of stealing bodies for doctors. My new story is set in the 1920s, which is much easier to research. 🙂

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  4. I’m glad to hear that you were feeling pumped up! Workshops are always great for getting feedback from other writers and just feeding off their vibe and feeling like you got this! You know when I first started the blog I was actually looking for a writer’s workshop, trying to get back in the rhythm and fell into the blogging world. So many people have been so supportive and it’s a good place to find other writers and build a community and network. Glad your first week went well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I bookmarked that link.

    I’ve been to a memoir writing workshop, but that’s the extent of my writing workshop experience. It was all lecture with a little partnering/interaction time. I learned more from reading books published on the topic than the workshop. I get unduly stressed by the social aspect of workshops. It’s really hard to share my writing with perfect strangers face-to-face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can relate to that! The idea of making small talk with strangers is daunting. But I’m happy to say that by the end of the week my fears were unfounded. I realize everyone is in the same boat, i.e. sharing their work with strangers.

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