How to Set Up a Writing Workshop
4th Jun 2018 in Writing
Honest, useful critique is a vital part of being a writer. Writing is so internalised that we can lose track of our words, and what we meant to say isn’t actually on the page. It’s difficult to look objectively at your own work, and every piece of writing eventually needs a fresh set of eyes.
If you can’t find a suitable workshop group in your area, then set one up yourself! This is easier if you already have some writer-friends whose opinions you trust, but if not then don’t worry – your town will have other writers in need of feedback.
Step 1. Find writers. Use Meetup, Gumtree or Eventbrite, or go old-school with posters and flyers in local cafés and bookshops. A café is ideal as a meeting place – pubs are best avoided due to that British tendency to get drunk when nervous. Try to find somewhere quiet, convenient and not too busy.
Step 2. Agree on a submission schedule for the workshop. This will depend on how many people you have – if there are 5+ you can’t all submit work each time, or you’ll be there for hours. It’s best to email work round at least a week in advance, so that everyone has plenty of time to read it over and make comments. Decide on a maximum word count for prose, line count for poetry, or page count for scripts.
Step 3. Ensure the right atmosphere. It’s good to be social but the point is to improve your work, so everyone must be professional and courteous. Avoid the use of you, as in ‘I don’t like the way you write this’ – you’re critiquing the story, not the person – say instead ‘I’m not sure that this sentence works.’ It seems like a minor detail, but many people don’t show their writing to anyone before joining a workshop, and it can be upsetting if others tear the stories apart.
Step 4. When critiquing stories, use the crudely-named but effective ‘shit sandwich’ method: mention one thing that worked well in the story (the bread), one thing that didn’t work or wasn’t convincing (the shit), and then end on another positive comment (bread again). This way, writers get useful critique but don’t get disheartened or feel that everyone is being harsh. Even the best story can be improved, and even the worst story has some good aspects.
Step 5. Respect other people’s writing, even if it’s not your cup of tea. It doesn’t matter if you don’t usually read military sci-fi or chick-lit – what matters is whether the story is well-written, convincing and interesting. Critique each story on its own terms.
Step 6. Repeat as needed. You might not strike it lucky with your first workshop group, but if it’s not working for you then don’t feel bad about suggesting changes or even leaving the group and starting another. The goal is to build a community of writers whose opinions you really trust.
(Originally published at IdeasTap)