A Few Notes About Workshopping
While instructors and participants alike bring knowledge, experience,
and personality to a workshop — ultimately, every workshop
has its own unique feel — here are some basic guidelines
for workshopping that you may find helpful:
Your instructor may request a copy of your manuscript in advance
of the conference - please check your instructor letter for
any important deadlines.
When formatting your manuscript remember to: double-space,
number your pages, use a 12-pt. font, and leave margins wide
enough for readers to write comments. Also, be sure to comply
with any page-limit guidelines your instructor may have requested,
so that your instructor and fellow participants will have enough
time to devote to your draft, both before and during your critique.
Every instructor has a slightly different way of conducting
a workshop, but here are some basic suggestions to keep in mind:
Ernest Hemingway wrote, "When people talk, listen completely.
Don't be thinking what you're going to say. Most people never
listen. Nor do they observe." Listening to critical feedback
is a fundamental part of the workshop experience. Accordingly,
many instructors will ask that you, the author, remain silent
throughout your critique. Listening to others respond to your
work without jumping in, explaining, or defending can allow
you to see more clearly what hasn't transferred from your mind
onto the page. (While you might know perfectly well what you
meant to say, that meaning doesn't always come across to the
reader - and that's a valuable kind of feedback to receive.)
Taking notes during your critique is another good way of "listening."
For one thing, without writing things down, it will be nearly
impossible to remember everything your instructor and fellow
participants have said. Also, certain comments you might not
agree with or understand at the time that you hear them may
be brought into a different light upon later reading and reflection.
Of course, you're under no obligation to accept the criticism
you've been offered - but try to keep an open mind!
Critiquing Others' Work
Before workshop, read your peers' work attentively, at least
once through (some instructors may request that you read it
twice). Write comments on the manuscript itself. This way you'll
have specific things to point to during the workshop, and the
author will have your written feedback when s/he takes the manuscript
back. Writing down a response of a few paragraphs at the end
of the draft can also help you put your thoughts in order in
preparation for the critique, and is yet another valuable form
of feedback for the author.
During the critique, be honest and tactful. The author being
workshopped will benefit most from your concrete and specific
responses as to what is working well in the piece and what you
feel might improve it. Always keep in mind that the manuscript
is a work in progress. Concentrate on what that story seems
to be pointing towards. What does it ultimately want to say,
and what might help it to say it more effectively? Keep in mind
the elements of craft: character, point of view, setting, plot,
dialogue, symbol, and theme.
...And most importantly, enjoy yourself! Workshops
should be dynamic and rewarding experiences for everyone involved.