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:

Pre-workshop Guidelines

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.

Getting "Workshopped"

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.