Expectations for a writing workshop

My aforementioned short story gets reviewed in fiction workshop tonight and I thought I’d take you on a backstage tour of my brain so you know my mentality going into the workshop…

“I hope my peers in the workshop like my story, and I’m going to be okay if they don’t.”

Audience is at the forefront of my mind in most all of my creative endeavors. I write to entertain and I read to entertain, so I hope my readers are entertained. This doesn’t often come up in a workshop situation, however. The best workshops are less about writing peers like and more about how peers interpret the writing works. This is where written comments on the manuscript pages and verbal comments during break come in handy.

But let’s say they don’t like it. Be prepared to accept that. Not every story is for everybody, no matter how well written (I enjoy T.C. Boyle, but there are long stretches of The Tortilla Curtain that do not entertain me). Your story will find its audience, but consider what this first audience thinks of it so you can adjust it as needed (or not, if  you don’t respect them, though you should respect your peers if only at least a little bit).

“I hope my short story works, and I hope my peers are able to tell me if it doesn’t.”

I try to use craft choice to enhance my writing, and I hope my work shows. As a young writer, however, it doesn’t always show, so I have to hope there’s enough to entice my readers. If my choices aren’t working, or the piece would be enhanced by other choices, my hope is my peers tell me so and give positive suggestions on how to do so. Basically, try to write well and if you don’t, have people interested in your continued improvement.

Your craft choices may end up heavy-handed or on the other hand, far too subtle. Decide which choices are best for the story, not which ones are the most impressive. Remember, your peers are studying the same skill set of craft choices you are, so it’s worth listening to what they have to say.

“I hope I walk away from the workshop experience excited, and I absolutely know I will.”

Whether a story gets eviscerated in workshop or published in Tin House, the writer should feel excited about their product. I put a lot of work into my writing, and the writing that excites me is the writing I enjoy giving my time and effort. If you aren’t excited about what you’re writing, why bring it to workshop? How can you expect anyone else to get excited about it?

This is a lesson in marrying humility with self-confidence. If you’re too confident, it becomes vanity and you won’t listen to anyone about your writing. And if you’re too humble, you’ll take every single suggestion thrown your way even if it ends up being detrimental to the story. Rather than those two directions, let them combine as excitement and let that fuel you in a workshop.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to take my own advice tonight. I’m pretty excited about this story, and my last point will be the most important for me to follow, particularly if it doesn’t work for this audience. I’ll let you know the specific workshop results tomorrow, dear reader.

-nm

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