My first creative writing workshop was a total disaster. It was my first year of university and I was painfully shy and awkward. I managed to avoid speaking up in tutorials for other subjects but thought that creative writing would somehow be different. I’d always been told I was good at writing, so surely this was the subject that would bring me out of my shell. The lecturer was a sleazy older guy who put me on edge from the start. After I dropped the subject I saw that someone had scrawled on a toilet door in the union building “Paul K is a sexual harasser.”
About twenty of us sat around a long table for these workshops, and in the first class the lecturer made everyone come up with a story off the top of their head. Being put on the spot in front of a large group of strangers is pure torture for an introvert and I just froze. I’d been reading a lot of New Age books at the time so in a panic I told them that I’d recently had a near death experience and “seen the light.” Other people had told stories that were obviously fictional and everyone realised this but for some reason they thought I was telling the truth. I was too embarrassed to set them straight so from then on I became pegged in their minds as a nut job. To make things even worse just after I’d spoken the lecturer told everyone to keep the stories they’d heard to themselves, “no matter how weird you think someone is.”
That was all bad enough but a couple of weeks later we had to share something we’d written with the class. For some totally unknown reason I volunteered to go first to read my story about this lovely, kind, intelligent girl who is being persecuted by a bitchy friend. It was so transparently autobiographical that I still cringe when I think about it. You can guess which character I was. After I finished reading there was dead silence in the room and I can’t remember any of the comments that were made. I’m not sure when it dawned on me just how bad my story was but I dropped the subject soon after that and hoped never to run into any of these people again. It actually put me off creative writing for a very long time.
Last year I finally overcome my fear of creative writing workshops and enrolled in a subject at university. Things have changed dramatically since my last foray into workshopping, and being able to do everything online is a godsend for people like me. I still wasn’t thrilled with the idea of workshops because I thought it would involve plodding through a lot of boring stories until I finally got to share my own writing. A selfish attitude I know, but thankfully I’ve been proven wrong.
Not only do I find reading and commenting on other people’s writing to be extremely beneficial to my writing, but I actually enjoy it. It’s fascinating to see how ideas develop and I love the feeling of being able to give people constructive feedback and encouragement. In fact I like it so much that I’ve even started looking online for sites that allow you to critique writing. One of the best is Flogging the Quill where you can analyse the first page of well-known published author and newbies.
When I finish this course I will need to find a critique group to continue workshopping. I’m just glad there are so many out there and it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your needs. I’m not interested in polite praise and only positive feedback, I like getting down to the nitty-gritty and hearing the truth because it’s the only way to grow as a writer. This hasn’t always been the case but one of the other major benefits of workshops is that you quickly develop a pretty thick skin, and that’s something that comes in pretty handy for writers.
Now I’ve procrastinated enough for one day so it’s time to get cracking on the two major assignments which are due in the next week. Gulp.