Since I’ve spent the last several years attending writing classes at Rowan University, I’ve been involved in a lot of writer’s workshops. Depending on the type of class, they can be managed differently from one situation to another. No matter what the case, however, they take a certain amount of thick skin.
In some classes, we do small group workshops. In these scenarios, your story is usually read by three people, who offer you feedback in the form of both notes and small group discussion. This is usually a relatively painless procedure, but can offer a lot of valuable advice.
The other type of workshop I usually go through is one where the entire class reads your story. Then, instead of getting verbal feedback in a small discussion, the entire class discusses your work, usually for about 45 minutes. This can be a lot more difficult, though arguably it is also more valuable.
I went through a workshop session this week for my Fiction Writing class. Since it’s a graduate class, the workshop consisted of more than a dozen experienced writers, all of whom are working on their master’s degrees. Now, I’ve been one of the critiquers in these workshops plenty of times (and I’ve critiqued and discussed four stories by four of my classmates so far just this semester). But being the one in the “hot seat” is always difficult.
It’s definitely important to bring your thick skin and leave your ego at the door. Fortunately, my classmates all know how to be positive and constructive (especially since they all know THEY will be in the hot seat soon enough). Still, even when the environment is a positive one, it can be difficult to spend 45 minutes listening to a group of people point out all the flaws in your story (doubly so since the writer isn’t allowed to speak until the very end).
In preparation for the workshop, I had my story reviewed by a few friends on Twitter, so I could polish out some of the basic issues ahead of time. I got good feedback on the story. It’s another short story in the Arcana Revived series, this time focusing on Callia Gainsborough and Minori Tsujino (both of whom are major supporting characters in the series, but characters who don’t often get their own time in the spotlight).
Based on the feedback I received from the first group, I cleaned up the basic grammatical errors, polished up the details, and made sure the story was clean and well-composed. That meant that there (in theory) wasn’t much for the workshop group to say about basic issued of grammar, description, and other “surface level” stuff. As a result, they focused more on greater structural issues, like character development, scene order, and world building.
Based on the feedback I received, I’ll be able to develop the story further and address the issues that were raised. Many of them stemmed specifically from the fact that this was a standalone story that is part of a larger work. Callia in particular is a character with a lot of history in the overall series, most of which wasn’t addressed in this short piece. This led to a lot of questions from the readers. So part of what I need to do is make sure to add in enough of those details to address the key questions, so that the story can function just fine as a solo piece. It’s a bit of a different way of looking at things, since I’m used to writing novels more than short stories. More than half of the questions that were raised wouldn’t have been issues if this story was just one chapter in the novels. The questions would be answered earlier or later in the novels, in other chapters. But to be a standalone piece, the story needs to hold itself up without the reader having knowledge of the other works.
The good part is that a lot of the general feedback was positive. Several people told me that they liked the writing, that the description was clear, and that the characters were interesting. So I take that as a good sign. I have the basics down. I have something that people will be interested in. I just need to take all of the feedback and use it to address the flaws in order to make the overall story stronger. So I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. Taking that into consideration, the workshop was clearly valuable. I wouldn’t have known which issues needed to be addressed if not for the feedback from my classmates.
Even if being in the hot seat was hard to do.