Many years ago, when I first began writing poems and fiction in earnest, I wanted to do something with my writing but I didn’t know what “doing something” even meant. I desperately wanted to share my poems with someone other than my best friend or my mother, to put them out there in the world where they could be discussed, and where other writers could help me understand how to make them even better. So I signed up for a graduate level poetry class at Cleveland State University. Terrified to actually hand out poems to a group of people I hardly knew, I would go over them again and again, pushing myself to make my poetry sing; to say something beautifully, with just the right words.
Workshopping my writing was not easy. I often came home devastated, knowing I had more to learn, thinking it all impossible, and yet I’d wake each morning with an idea, or a perfect word or a perfect phrase, or a new concept—an “ah ha” moment that compelled me to keep writing. A new found belief that, yes, I could write, and I could get better, if I only kept at it and wrote every day.
I could have quit after that first class, but I signed up for another. I was addicted to workshopping. I couldn’t see myself as a viable writer without workshopping.
I wanted more. I asked someone in class if she would be interested in forming a workshop. She said yes, and that she knew someone else, a prose writer, who might want to join us. Long story short, that first meeting with the three of us lead to establishing The East Side Writers, a workshop group that has been meeting once a month for over twenty-five years.
Usually there are about nine of us. Nine is a good number, especially since not everyone can make all the meetings. Less than eight or nine people can mean that you don’t get enough feedback, more than that can mean that you get too much feedback and can’t take it all in. The number of people in a workshop is important, as well as what you do with all the opinions and helpful advice you get from a critique.
How to start a workshop, and how to keep it going, take a bit of finesse. I’ve learned a lot over these twenty-five years, not just about writing, but about group dynamics and the process of workshopping.
Some writers don’t like workshops and don’t need them, but many of us do. Along with my own writers’ group, I run three workshops for The Cuyahoga County Public Library: an Intro to Fiction Workshop, an Intermediate Fiction Workshop, and an Advanced Fiction Workshop, and each meets once a month. Library workshops and public workshops are quite different than private workshops, but all of them have their benefits, as well as pitfalls.
Would you like to begin your own creative writing workshop and bring together your peers to discuss and improve your fiction, memoirs, poetry, or creative non-fiction? Or would you like a few tips on how to keep your group running smoothly? I’m happy to speak to groups about the process of workshopping and running a successful workshop. We’ll talk about such subjects as finding peers, when and where to meet, how to offer a helpful critique, how to listen to a critique, and how to move on to your next draft after a critique.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org