Let’s face it. It’s rarely easy pulling off a great piece of writing – be it 200 words or 20,000. Getting feedback from your family and friends on something you’ve written is nice, but unless they secretly hate you they’ll most likely tell you it’s awesome. And maybe it is. Or maybe it’s not quite as awesome as it could be… yet.
“All writing is rewriting” goes the popular saying. A workshopping group can help make that process a whole lot less painful.
Starting a group
Five people to a group is a pretty good number. Any less and you risk not having a wide enough pool of opinion; many more and you could drown in feedback. Some groups like to workshop one writer each week; others, a couple. It’s best if you forward your work to the group a couple of days ahead of your meeting day so that everyone has enough time to read it a few times, think it over and make some pertinent notes.
It’s probably best if the group is made up of writers at a similar stage in their career. You want to all feel equal in your abilities — or at least equal enough to feel confident offering and recieving feedback from each other. Likewise, it’s useful to work with writers who are interested in similar material to you. There’s not much point joining a science fiction or fantasy group if you’re into writing bodice-rippers. Unless of course you write sci-fi bodice-rippers — in which case: great!
It’s helpful if your group’s members have a mix of strengths. Someone might be great at structure, another might be a gun with voice, character or dialgoue. Draw on each other’s gifts.
Meet at each other’s houses, or other quiet spaces. And meet regularly — once a week or fortnightly.
Be constructive. As Sian Prior, author of Shy: a memoir, suggests in her ‘Guide to constructive workshopping’: ‘focus on the good points first’. Writers are presumably in the workshop because they want to know what isn’t working, but everyone likes to know they’re doing something right as well.
Focus on solutions, be precise, concise and always keep in mind what the writer’s intention is, not what you think it should be. Your job is to help your fellow writer make their writing better, not insist that they reinvent it to your taste.
Try not to jump in and defend yourself if you’re receiving feedback you don’t agree with. It can be overwhelming listening to multiple opinions about a piece you’ve sweated over, and not every note is going to resonate with you. Hold your tongue, accept what’s said and process it later. You might still disagree with a note — and that’s okay.
Don’t pre-empt others responses to your work by telling them it’s ‘very rough’, or ‘isn’t very good’ before they’ve even started reading it. Again in the words of Sian Prior: silence your inner critic. ‘There is no value in lowering the reader’s expectations by self-criticising.’
Don’t know any writers?
Put a sign up at your local library, get in touch with your local Writers’ Centre (there’s one in every state of Australia), ask around your uni classes, workplace etc, or just go online. There is a growing number of workshopping groups on the interwebz — which is also super handy if you have any big restrictions on your time or ability to travel.
Now: get writing!