Writers need and crave feedback. Writing is normally a solitary act — writers sit over their computers or pads of paper agonizing over word use and story content. When we get done with a first draft we normally set it aside for awhile and then come back to it. “What was I thinking here?” one might say on re-reading the work. Or, “Wow! This is really great. The world needs to read this work!” Then, maybe we have a friend read it and provide feedback. Or, perhaps we go “workshop the piece.”
A normal workshop consists of a leader / author / teacher heading up a group of writers. The leader will often bring in all the participants’ work and distribute it to be read and critiqued. The group will then spend time analyzing what worked and what might need some additional attention to improve the piece. These workshops can be helpful, provide insight into what you are strong at, and highlight areas that you need to spend a little more time developing. They can also be fun!
I just spent a week at a wonderful and helpful workshop called Sirenland. It was held in the beautiful city of Positano Italy and the teachers included Dani Shapiro, Meg Wolitzer and Andre Dubus III. What a lineup! We spent the week reading and talking, finding ways to write more honestly and effectively. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I happened to be in Dani Shapiro’s group. I was blown away by the quality of writers in the group. We spent our time basking in the wisdom and skill of one finest writers our time, while reading and critiquing each others’ work. My head is still spinning.
Some key take aways:
- Writers write (spend time everyday writing)
- Give yourself permission to call yourself a writer
- Look to uncover the non-trivial universals in your work
- Have patience with yourself and your work (iteration is important and critical)
- Continually strive to improve your craft
There are literally thousands of workshop opportunities — you don’t need to go to Italy to find camaraderie and guidance in your writing. I highly recommend spending some time each year with other writers who understand the trials and tribulations of being a writer… the food can be pretty awesome too.