Advanced Topics Writing Seminar recently published a dystopian short story anthology, Present Tense Future! The anthology of 24 stories is the product of a collaborative writing community.
From the beginning of the process, we got together in groups of 12 to workshop each others’ drafts. What exactly is a workshop, you might ask? As the name suggests, it’s a session where we gather to share our thoughts about each writer’s work and our ideas for how they could improve their stories. The workshop process can be daunting for a writer, especially sharing their work and opening themselves up to scrutiny. It’s important that everyone in the group learns how to contribute constructively to the discussion.
So how might you navigate this process?
Check out AT Writing Seminar’s 10 tips on surviving the workshop:
1. Decide on a Structure
As a workshop group, establish the structure of your workshop session. How long is each session? Who is allowed to speak, and in what order? Each of our sessions began with the writer reading aloud a portion of their work and asking a guiding question. From then on, the writer remained silent. The collaborators “whip-shared” their initial impressions and questions around the circle, and for the next 10 minutes the class had a wide-ranging discussion about the work and the questions that were raised. At the end of the session, the writer had a chance to ask clarifying questions to conclude the workshop.
2. Don’t Panic!
Sharing your work in its initial stages might be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be scary! A workshop session is free from personal judgement—everyone else is in the same stage of the writing process and shares your worries. Trust that everyone in the workshop is there to grow and learn together.
3. Bring an Open Mind
Nobody in the workshop is here to tear you down; each writer wants to help you write the best story possible. This might be the first time anyone else had read your piece! Expect that you will hear new opinions and perspectives on your work. It’s really valuable for you as a writer to learn how the audience perceives your work, so be open to all criticism and critique.
4. Be Prepared
It goes without saying, but make sure to read all the stories before the workshop! You’re a valuable member of the workshop group, and you need to make sure you have read the stories in order to contribute. As you’re reading, make sure to annotate the stories in a way that makes sense for you. You can point out areas that you particularly like, circle possible errors, and so forth. Think about what the story is trying to say, and whether that message comes across. Which leads us to…
5. Ask Questions!
Asking questions is a great way to try to grasp and understand a text. Is there any part of the piece that is confusing, or are there any flaws in the story’s logic? Ask a clarifying question! On a deeper level, you can ask questions about the author’s artistic decisions, the motivations of the characters, the setting, and so on. At this point in the process, the author hasn’t thought out every aspect of their piece yet either. Asking these questions can help them develop their piece!