Monday, January 19, 2015

To Workshop or Not to Workshop -- That is the Question


It's a beautiful Martin Luther King Day and from my perch at my desk I can see people biking along the bike path. I am finding that an office makes me feel more legitimate than writing at home in my pajamas. 

Today I want to talk about some ideas I have about workshopping and getting feedback from others. In our workshop at Beyond Baroque inVenice, I came up with an idea: I asked each participant how finished they thought their piece was -- on a scale of one to ten. A one meant that had just ripped it fresh from the printer and it had barely cooled. A ten meant that they had done multiple drafts and they felt it was polished and ready for publication. As we went around the room that evening, everyone said where they thought their work fell on that scale.

Trust me, there was a point to it all. I think each writer has his or her own optimal number when it comes to when to get feedback. I noticed that most of the people in our workshop bring in twos or threes. I think this allows you to be more flexible in receiving feedback. I, myself, tend to bring sevens when I workshop. This can be detrimental in that I may have already worked so hard on the story, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about receiving criticism. I should, perhaps, force myself to bring in a three, even a four, so I don’t feel like the piece is set in stone.

Once we started to use this device, it became part of the common language of the group. Someone, would come in and say, “this is two,” a short hand way of saying, “this is fresh, don’t judge me too harshly.” As someone said in our group the other day (and I paraphrase): if something is a little sapling, you want to make sure no one stomps on it and kills it.

These nascent ideas, the fruit of our inner selves, are delicate things and, as much as writers benefit from criticism, they also profit from nurturing. You can get as much out of seeing what you are doing right as from being told what you are doing wrong. The parts of a piece that shine are just as important, if not more so, then the lines that land with thud.  

So, whatever you are doing on this holiday, I encourage you (writers and non-writers alike) to go out and praise someone for a particularly good turn of phrase – or for anything else that strikes your fancy.


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