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Making Your Workshop Work For
by Tina Morgan
Now that you've joined the writing workshop of your choice, how do you get the most out of the experience? How do you begin and what is expected of you? First, if you're nervous, take a deep breath and relax. It really isn't that hard. There are a few basic ideas to keep in mind when addressing your first critique.
1. Tact is a golden attribute to every critique
2. Never attack the writer, this is their story and their experience level/taste/style may vary from yours. You don't enjoy every book in the bookstore, why should you like every submission in the workshop? What's the golden rule? 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.' Yes, your job is to help the writer find ways to improve their story, but if you really dislike their writing, walk away and wait for the next submission.
3. Just as you may have personality differences with co-workers and classmates, you may not like everyone in your workshop. This is only a problem if you allow it to be. If the membership requirements make critiquing some you dislike necessary, handle their story as you would want them to handle yours. Put personality differences aside and concentrate on the writing.
4. Learn the components of a good story: plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, point of view, style, and opening or hook.
5. Write your critique and send it in. You'll never learn anything sitting on the sidelines.
Once you send in that first critique, don't expect the author to thank you. Most will tell you they appreciate your time, but not everyone will. Don't let a lapse in manners put you off from participating in the workshop. If you want your story reviewed, the best thing you can do, is to critique other writer's work yourself. Not everyone will return the favor. They are not required to do so. If they dislike your style of writing, it might not even be desirable.
When you submit your story make certain you have formatted your submission in the correct manner for your particular workshop. Sometimes this can be very frustrating if you are running a word processing program that is incompatible with the workshops webpage. Keep trying until you get it right, if you are having a great deal of trouble, try asking for help from the workshop's moderator. If you send your story through without the proper format it may be impossible to read.
Regardless of how good or bad you think your spelling and grammar are, make sure you run your spell/grammar check on your word processing program. Then go back and read your work again. Spell checks are not foolproof. The best thing you can do, is to let the story sit for a few days. Wait until you've given your mind time to clear and you can no longer recite the story word for word. You are more likely to find your mistakes if you distance yourself from the work for a few days or even weeks. Some readers may be thinking 'Why should I work that hard? Isn't that what a critique is for, to find my mistakes?' Yes and no. You don't want your readers spending all their time trying to struggle through incorrect spellings and sentence structures when you may have larger problems that need to be addressed. If a reader has to fight to read your story, they may quit and not do the critique.
Keep in mind that a workshop is supposed to be a learning experience. You may receive critiques from authors who have more or less experience than you. For the purpose of the workshop, you are all students of equal standing. Check your ego or your insecurities at the door. Try to remember that the other members are trying to help you. However, their critiques are their personal opinion, just as yours are your own individual thoughts. Take the critiques you receive with that in mind. Write your critiques with the thought that there is a person on the other side of the internet line with hopes and expectations for their work just like you.
Most of all, treat the other members with respect. If you receive a critique you feel is abusive, don't hesitate to take it up with the workshop moderator. Try not to give another member a reason to bring your critique to the attention of the moderator.
A workshop should be an enjoyable place to interact with fellow writers and to learn more about your craft. If you feel the experience is not beneficial, don't stay with that group.
There are plenty of others around.
Most importantly, learn to look for the mistakes other writers are making. It will benefit your own work when you can also learn to spot these things in your own work too
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