How to Survive the Workshop

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By Jake Lam

The creative writing workshop is a kind of necessary step for any great work. The time we spend cloistered with our work can only carry us so far. We need other people to see our work in order to get it to be the best that it can be.

However, this comes with a big catch. In the writing workshop, these eyes might not be impartial. The workshop might not have seen the writer’s work before, but know the writer, and the writer might know them. People can be shy, and not fully confident in their work, wanting to hide it from the very people that can help them make it better. Submitting work to a literary magazine in an email feels different from handing your work out and watching people take it in.

I’ve seen plenty of people deliver pieces to workshops apologizing for the work they hand in. I was one of those people. I once wrote a piece about male sexuality, and the anger and self-loathing that can come from it. Being very male-centric and very earnest in its description of my gender, it was kind of disgusting, in that the male characters objectified women and swore repeatedly, and I had to present it for workshop with a class almost exclusively made up of women. I realized this right before I had to hand it into workshop, and wrote a full-page preface on the front of the piece, trying to save face by spoiling one of the heinous actions my character would commit in the end. I felt embarrassed to show my work in front of people because I wasn’t thinking of my audience when I was writing.

This experience taught me that my insecurities with my work were holding me back. I wanted to apologize for my art, like it was a great big sin I was committing, and I was begging forgiveness. I had to learn to be proud of my work, to believe in it, to believe in myself, and that I should not be so scared to let people read my work. By viewing and critiquing art, we make it better.

There are ways to forgo this fear in a workshop. Writers should not be afraid to be open in the workshop. If we open ourselves to criticism, we can learn from it and become better writers, and if we open ourselves to new styles and ideas, we can find whole new facets of writing we would have never known we liked. Everything you hold back from the workshop is detrimental to everyone, most of all yourself.

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