Congratulations! You’ve completed your first short story and isn’t it just perfect? The characters are fully realized; the language is lyrical, but not overbearingly so; the plot is engaging and yet subtle enough to merit a second read through (who wouldn’t want to read it twice?). You’ve created life out of nothing and now know the meaning of motherly love. What, you might ask, could possibly ruin this fluttery feeling?
The writers workshop, that’s what.
The life cycle of your story will be a harrowing one. The first test is the workshop, a place you take your stories to get analyzed, dissected, and misunderstood by an audience. You sit front and center, watching as your peers pull apart everything you so carefully put together.
This process can be tough for those new to workshops, but it gets easier. Here are just a few survival tips:
1. Don’t Take It Personally
When you put a lot of time and energy into creating something original and representative of your best work, it’s hard not to take things personally. Try to remember that the criticism is meant to be constructive. Look at the workshop as an opportunity to grow as an artist. Most creative types have an ego. Leave yours at the door.
2. Keep Your Mouth Shut
This can be a difficult task. The desire to interject will come when they interpret your story wrong, but you absolutely must keep your mouth shut. It’s important for students to talk openly. As soon as you interrupt the process to explain your creative choices, you put up a wall. People will be afraid to offend you and you won’t get an honest critique.
3. Be Selective
Everyone has something beneficial to offer, right? Wrong. There will always be students in your class who just do not get it. You have to learn to filter the good advice from the bad. We all bring our own tastes into the workshop and typically these tastes affect our choices in technique. What works for you might not work for the next guy over. That being said, you should listen to what everyone has to say. Sometimes it just takes a shift in perspective for everything to click.
4. Come Prepared to Ask Questions
At the end of the critique, you might be allowed to ask a few questions. Do not miss out on the opportunity! This is when you get to dictate the course of the workshop. Come with a list of questions designed to help you develop the story in a way you that works for you.
So you’ve made it through your first workshop and the story you started out with is in tatters. Your ego is bruised and you’re wondering why you ever decided to be a writer. Quitting would be the easiest choice at this point, but you’re better than that, aren’t you? You can see where the story needs to be tweaked: the weak dialogue, inappropriate setting, inconsistent voice. Maybe it wasn’t all working before. What was that about motherly love? How quickly the feeling changes to disappointment.
But it’s not over yet. Everything can be stitched back together and better than before. By the next workshop, your peers will finally understand what you meant to say all along. If not, the cycle repeats. And that’s just the way of creative writing.