|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A WORKSHOP
Ladies and Gentlemen, for your safety, please stow your egos in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.
Before anyone asks...YES I still attend REGULAR workshops for both poetry and fiction. I also occasionally attend ones aimed at the business of publishing, copyright, book design...and I still write every single damned day. No exceptions! (I count this blog in that. Think it's easy? Try 365 straight days of being ON. Go on...)
What do I look for in workshops? Brutal honesty. I've been at this a while and realize there are times when I will produce something that just isn't up to snuff, but I refuse to let it go. An honest, critical voice, that speaks from craft and knowledge, can be just the thing. I've been exposed to the curt styling of rejection notices enough that, if somebody has a real suggestion (other than where I might consider filing that trash!), I'm thrilled to listen.
I would suggest that, before you dive right in there, attend a meeting or two as an observer. In my experience,the groups that have had the best track records and longevity were more than willing to allow you to try it before you bought into it. This also gives you some time to see how the group operates.
Are they a studious group that believes scholarship is the best path forward? If so, they may have weekly or bi-weekly assignments they expect their members to complete in addition to reading and reviewing each other's work. They may be dedicated to one (or a limited number) of genres or styles and not want to wander outside that zone. If it doesn't work, don't feel obligated to stay. (Though I've attended some and stayed just to stretch my literary vocabulary.)
You may chose a group that's newer and less formal. Perhaps they're at the same approximate level that you are, offering a more pat on the head approach to critiquing. Beware the group with the, "Nobody can truly say something is or isn't art." bias. It's a load of crap. You may not be able to say whether a particular work will become "GREAT" art - that's, more or less, a function of time, but bad writing is bad writing. Better to settle in with a group that periodically has a small skirmish over style, content, form, or language. Whatever, so long as it doesn't go on too long and when it's done, IT'S DONE! This is a group that feels passionately about their craft!
Avoid a group where one individual holds court. Workshops are about everyone having the chance to speak their mind. It's also about listening, even when that bastard is Soooo WRONG! Somebody will inevitably spring a leak and disappear for a couple of sessions, but real writers are pretty thick-skinned, and after a while, return to the fold. Remember, you can shop around, but if you find a group that might be a little tough at times, consider that editors, publishers, and critics can be friggin' psychopathic!
Meantime...live, love, write.
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Tomorrow always comes,
Dane F. Baylis