Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Is Workshopping Really Good for Writers?

If someone asked me the question of this post’s title, my first response would be, “Depends on who’s there.”.

Did you notice the two periods in that last sentence?

Some would say I broke a rule; yet, to me, the quoted sentence needs a period for itself and the sentence it occurs in needs one, too.


So, if I can feel OK about using non-consensual punctuation, I’d be a real riot in a writers’ workshop—I’d overlook many “faults” and be criticized for “poor judgement” when I did offer a point-of-view.

Funny thing about that criticism: most folks who give it don’t use judgement to decide when to hurl invective—they swallow what others have said and spit it out like venom.

I don’t think the wildly famous poet Emily Dickinson would have done well in workshops either.

She wrote over 1700 poems but only six were published in her lifetime.

The editors stripped-away her unique use of dashes as “breathing-punctuation” and wrenched her near-rhymes toward what “proper” poets would do

Back in May, I wrote the post, Global Cities of Literature Network—Iowa City, USA is one of them.

Their University newspaper published an article, apparently by a student, with the same title as this post, Is Workshopping Really Good for Writers?, from which I’ll share a few excerpts:

“I can honestly say that some of the best writing I had to read during those times [in workshops] came from individuals with no real training or significant experience with writing before. It seemed that they were writing well despite the workshop.”

“For those trained to write, their stories or pieces, while eloquently written, weren’t necessarily good pieces.”

“The workshop format tries to force individuals to take too seriously the opinions of others.”

“This isn’t so bad if your workshop group is composed of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Dr. Suess, and Chuck Palahniuk.”

“Why then should someone take people’s advice on how to write when the chances are that they probably know little more than you do about their own craft?”

How would you answer that last question??

Naturally, my first answer would be, “Depends on who’s giving it.”.

Then, I’d qualify that with, “Unless the advice strikes an immediate chord in my writer’s heart“.

What’s your opinion on writers’ workshops?
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4 responses to “Is Workshopping Really Good for Writers?

  1. lynnbiederstadt July 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    AZ, I would never workshop my writing. I find the prospect akin to group therapy: Why would I subject myself to the opinions of folks even more screwed-up than I am? I know this from decades of writing professionally, in advertising as well as in fiction…the skill levels of those willing to read and comment can be vastly different than mine. The world is full of well-intentioned amateurs. Everyone thinks that he/she can write, and that fact is far from true. I need to be confident that the skills, the point of view, the ability to critique are at least equal to my own. The individuals I trust are those whose opinions have earned my trust. Present company included…. ;-)


  2. martinaseveckepohlen July 12, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Hm, your “Unless the advice strikes an immediate chord in my writer’s heart” is what I would have said. As in cooking ;-) there are rules in writing that are useful. But with some experience you need to play with rules in order to find out which are vital and which can be modified for your needs and taste. You can create new experiences by abandoning some rules and formulating your own. If people can’t accept your use of rules, the teacher or tutor or moderator has to intervene … very difficult. No, I don’t think I’d be happy in a writer’s workshop.


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