Sunday, March 22, 2009


A few things I thought about workshop ...

- Writing is such a lonely endeavour that a writer needs some company to share the passion as well as the angst of writing.

- A writer could get so close and deep into h/her own creation that h/she is unable to see the flaws. There comes a time when you need second opinion.

- To provide critique is a skill: I once sent off a 500 words flash fiction to a writing friend for critique. I thought she would be coming back with a few lines of comments. To my greatest surprise, she wrote me a whole page of comments. It included comments on overall narrative, structure, pacing, characterisation and dialogue etc. For those areas which I was sloppy or not up to it, she provided a few “fixer”.

- But on the same token, the friend who critiqued my work was also an unpublished writer. Though obviously, from her comments, she was a far more competent writer than I was. And I did improve my writing skill and the story to a large extent from her critique. There was no doubt about it. However, the critique could only get me so far, beyond that …

- A Big fish in a small pond and a tiny fish in a Big pond: Back to my uni days, we had a very talented classmate who blew us away every time with her writing. But I observed that she was very frustrated with our critique as we (the mediocre) were unable to offer her any insight which could help her to improve her writing.

When I was doing the year long course at Victorian Writers’ Centre, I was fortunate (unfortunate) to join a group which most of the members had already written at least a full manuscript of their first novel. Not only I haven’t got a manuscript, I was still struggling with the narrative. When came time to critique each other’s work, I was so out of depth that I had nothing to contribute to the group.

- Too soon to have a piece of writing for critique will kill the piece as well as the writer!

- Workshop becomes the crutch of the writer. The writer keeps sending the story for critique and never finished it.

So what am I saying?

The comradeship and support a writer could get from the workshop group is invaluable to the creative journey. Workshop is an important tool for writers to gauge their skill and growth. But a writer should always be aware of the pitfalls of workshop. Also from my personal experience, the right workshop group could make or break a writer.

What do you think?


sophie said...

I think you're right about most things here. But I have to disagree about inexperienced writers not being able to give good critical feedback. I think in those cases it's more about the writer themselves making an unfair judgement and not being able to get what they can out of that person's criticisms. A reader's criticisms are just as worthwhile (perhaps more so, since that's who we're writing for, right?) as a writer's. And a less experienced writer might not be able to give feedback that explicitly tells a writer how to write but their feedback about the mood of the piece (or whatever) can be utilised just as much as a more experienced writer talking about sentence structure, for example.

Sorry, not trying to be negative here. I guess what I'm trying to say is: don't beat yourself up about feeling like you were less experienced in that course! I think your experiences, even though they didn't happen to include a nearly-finished manuscript, were and are just as valid as the others' experiences.

I think, for me, having my work critiqued is as much work for me as it is for the person critiquing it. I have to listen very carefully and decide what I'm going to take from the criticism.

I also try to think of every experience, good or bad, (in life in general or in writing) as a learning experience. Even though some of your workshopping experiences haven't been great, it sounds like you've still learnt something from them!

amanda said...

I had an exereince like your's when I was in university. I wasn't a very confident writer and i had to stand up in front of the group and read a short story. After the critigue was scathing. The story never saw the light of day again.

Hybrid J said...

Hi Sophie,

Thanks for the fair and honest comments. And don't worry if you are to disagree or sound negative. This is actually good - lively and vigorous discussion is all we need.

Thank you for pointing out that comments from both experienced and inexperienced writers are equally important to the writer.

You have made me realized, thus admit, that there might have been "ego" involved when I wrote about my experience with the year long group. This also related to the level of "confidence" I had in my own writing. I think that's why I haven't joined any writing group yet as I'm still wary of the entire critique process. Nonetheless, I'm planning to form my own writing group in the (hopefully) very near future. ;)

I'm glad that you mentioned about "reader's response" as I'm to write another post which would touch on "recruiting / training" of readers.

I agree with your take on good / bad experience (in life and in writing). The bad experience are as valuable as the good one. It's up to each of us to extract what is useful to us.

Again, appreciate greatly of your respond.

Hybrid J said...

Hi Amanda,

This is exactly what I mean by "make or break a writer"! A lot of the time, we just have to bite the bullet and soldier on. Also look at you now, that experience did not stop you to write and express yourself. So keep going! ;)

Hybrid J said...

Hi Sophie,

On second thought, I want to clarify about the "ego" part. I used the wrong term. What I mean is I've always been a kind of a perfectionist myself. Hence I tend to be very self-critical on my writings. This also extends to when I offer any critique to anyone.

Sorry if I have confused you in any way ...

(I'm forever learning how to be less critical but be more gentle to myself!) (sigh)