Sunday, March 15, 2009

My Workshop Experience

Workshop as a feedback system is one which (I presume) most creative people opt for. From my own experience, workshop has its benefits as well as its drawback.

I had my first writing workshop when I was studying creative writing at uni. It was a traumatic experience to me. Not only because it was my first formal workshop, it’s also because I had an inexperience young tutor whose first love was English language, not creative writing. I ended up having English grammar lesson instead of workshop. My confidence in my own writing was totally shattered at the end of the semester.

During the 2nd and 3rd year at uni, I had a wonderful tutor who was encouraging and supportive. As I knew some of the workshop group members from 1st year at uni, we had built up trust to each other. It made us feel safe and free to offer comments as well as accepting critique. My writing confidence soared and as a result of that, my writing improved. It also made the writing process a lot more fun.

The latest workshop I had was through a year long course I did at Victorian Writer’s Centre. I didn’t enjoy it for a very simple reason. I was at the wrong group. Majority of participants were writing literary fiction, including the tutor. There were only three others (including myself) who were working on (loosely speaking) genre type writing. You could tell the interest level the group had on my strange tales from the frown on the tutor’s and some of the participants' foreheads. While the group would spend hours on discussion about the literary fiction genre, there was no mention of other genre.

However, one good thing did come out from this year long course. I made friend with one of the participants after the course finished. Every now and then, we critique each other’s stories. I had learnt how to do proper critique from her. This had greatly improved my writing skill. But due to each other’s schedule and our varied writing interests, we did not continued.

Since then, I’m working on my own.

Overall, my workshop expereince was of average. But it doesn’t mean that I’m against workshop or writing group.

Writing is a solitary activity and writers require a lot of alone time to create. But too much alone writing time can lead to an imbalance view of one’s work. Workshop at its core could provide an objective view of a participant’s work. And at its best, it could help to improve the participant’s skill and the work. Overall, I believe it is more about the kind of workshop and workshop group which one picks. In the coming weeks, I’ll be following up with more posts on workshop and writing group.

Alright, so far is my limited view on workshop. What do you think?

(The post is inspired and served as my respond to Sophie's post on "Workshopping" .)


sophie said...

Great post!

The major thing I get out of workshops is an idea of how a reader might respond to what I've written. And then I can decide whether or not I like that response, and how to go about changing the work (or not, as the case may be) to get the response I want. I think the thing for me about workshopping with other writers is that they have good suggestions as to the 'how' part of that equation as well.

That said, I think you're absolutely right about needing to find the right group. You need people who are open to reading all types of writing, and not focussing on the genre, but the writing itself. I guess a more objectively critical (as in critique, rather than just to negatively criticise) position is what I'm looking for when someone else is reading my work.

I don't know about other people, but feedback is absolutely integral to my creative process. I reach a point where I can't go any further without some (constructive) criticism.

Hybrid J said...

Your comments are spot on the issue of "reader's response" as the first thing a writer requires from workshop group.

I'm glad you agreed with my belief in finding "the right group". As my expereince had shown, being with the wrong group can do damage to a writer.

I do believe in the power of objective critique. But also learn that it does require a certain level of skill (writing & reading) to offer appropriate critique to a piece of writing.

Workshopping is also an essential process in my writing. A lot of the time I got too close to the story that I could no longer judge it for its merits. That would be the time when I need to find someone to workshop my piece ...

Anyway, I'll be writing up more detail posts on workshop & writing group etc. So look out for them ...