When people first find us, they often ask: tell me about your workshops. After we give them a round-up of the vast variety of genres and levels we offer, the person inquiring may probe deeper. And what can I expect in a workshop? We always answer that you can expect a supportive group led by an experienced instructor. You’ll write, read, and learn from each other. Recently in a conversation with Dani Shapiro, Chris Belden asked her: How can a writer get the most out of a workshop? Dani’s response and comments were so helpful I thought I’d share some of her sound-bites here:
“The workshop is not just about your work. The workshop is not there just for when your work up for discussion.” You often learn more when the group is discussing another writer’s work. When it’s our own turn, our nerves can get in the way and we can have trouble hearing.
“Whatever is on the page is on the page. Let people respond. Don’t try to explain.” This is a common compulsion for all of us – to answer, to explain. But really, when readers are reading our work, we are not there to explain. It’s most useful to hear how your work is coming across without jumping in to add your own explanations.
“Bring in something that’s thorny. That’s raw. That’s new. Something that will really benefit from that kind of really sacred feedback.” We are all tempted to edit and revise our pieces to death before sharing with the group, but when we do this, we don’t truly want or need feedback. Bring in the work that you’re struggling with. Ask the other writers to help with the issues you’re having. Be patient and open to feedback unrelated to your concerns.
“A good workshop is an organism that everyone is a part of in support of making the work the best of what it wants to be…” I love this one. Workshops work best when all of the writers are on the same page, are present in support of one another. You will find the readers who understand your work best, but really, we are all trying to do something really hard and just showing up for each other is what makes workshops such a special place.