Writing workshops – are they worth it?

Writing can be an isolating experience. The writing process is rarely collaborative at draft stage, yet this is a time when input can be invaluable. But where can writers get the kind of experienced input that will improve their work?

There are many kinds of writing workshops offering a range of experiences:

  • the learning experience – writing lessons that focus on grammar and syntax
  • brainstorming – the ideas workshop
  • peer review – the read/feedback loop

Which type you choose depends on what you require and which stage you are at. If you are familiar with the classroom setup, the learning experience may be the right choice. Brainstorming tends to be a more informal setup, with peer review being writer-led and focusing on constructive critique.

But why go at all?
The main reason for attending a workshop is to get feedback on your work. At some point in the future you will need to send your work out to an agent, publisher or competition. It’s well worth getting the opinions of other people before you do any of these things. Feedback helps a writer to see plot holes and character stereotypes, as well as pick up typos. Most writers are experienced in reading other writers’ work and are willing to give constructive critique in return for the same in exchange.

Another valuable aspect of writing workshops is discussion of the writing process. Writing can be difficult and emotional as well as satisfying and joyful. Speaking to other writers about their experiences and help to bring your own into perspective and to understand how do deal with rejection.

The Positives

  • Getting the word count up. Writing workshops give writers an opportunity to write!
  • Meeting like-minded people
  • Socialising – breaking the isolation
  • Finding out about new opportunities
  • Networking with industry professionals

The Negatives

  • Getting negative criticism – writing is subjective and there’s always someone willing to criticize
  • Mistaking positive critique for negative criticism – if you’re not used to critique it can feel uncomfortable at work. But most people are there to help not hinder
  • Worrying that people might steal your idea. They won’t. They’ve got their own ideas. Even if they did, another person couldn’t execute the idea in the same way as you, from your unique perspective
  • The Fear – be ready to read your work out loud or let other people read it – practice makes perfect and you will get used to it in time
  • Group dynamics – if you aren’t used to group dynamics this can be tricky at first
  • Time-wasters – every so often someone will join the group who likes the sound of their own voice and will drain energy. They don’t usually last long.

So is it worth it?

Most writing groups quite rightly charge a fee. Writers and organisers need to be paid and venues cost money. On the other hand, most writers don’t earn a lot, so it would be worth attending a few group sessions to see if this group is right for you before you commit. Good writing groups provide and invaluable resource to safely show your work to others and get useful feedback. They can provide an environment to get words onto the page and to progress your work in a positive direction.

My experience of writing groups is that they are populated by passionate, engaged people who want to discuss writing. I attend peer review groups and not classroom type groups – not because I think I have nothing to learn, rather that I enjoy the feedback process. Like anything, it takes time to settle and get used to the dynamic, but it is worth it. Give it a go!