★ Writing Workshops

James Burt, in ref­er­ence to his own post on Literature Network about writ­ing work­shops, says:

At the moment I don’t feel com­fort­able with writ­ing work­shops, but I know my writ­ing has improved in the past through many of the tal­en­ted people I have work­shopped with.

That goes for me, too.

The piece makes sev­er­al good points. At the end of the day, I feel that a work­shop full of writers is an unpre­dict­able, chaot­ic entity that is unusu­ally sus­cept­ible to ini­tial con­di­tions.

As I said, I’ve been lucky with writers’ groups. Here’s what I’ve found over the years:

  • In any group of people, there will be some whose opin­ions are plain wrong. It can be dif­fi­cult to identi­fy those people.
  • A fel­low writer whom you admire per­son­ally can read out some­thing that is abso­lutely awful. This will make for an uncom­fort­able moment when you try to give them hon­est feed­back.
  • Without hon­est feed­back, a writ­ing group is a point­less talk­ing shop char­ac­ter­ised by com­mis­er­a­tion.
  • There is a bias towards short fic­tion because this involves less work for those in the work­shop than longer pieces. Through a form of cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance, this can bol­ster the idea that short fic­tion is a high­er or purer form of fic­tion than the longer vari­ety.
  • It is not the case, as far as I can tell, that oth­er writers can provide you with use­ful feed­back just because they are try­ing to write too.
  • These people do know what it’s like to try and crash.