Workshopping Your Work-in-Progress

by RS on December 17, 2009

When I finally decided I wanted to write a novel I realized that I needed guidance. At the time a friend suggested that I take MediaBistro’s “Draft Your Novel in Three Months” workshop, naively thinking (and taking the course title way too literally) that I could easily bang away at my masterpiece and have a completed draft after three months.

Looking back, I admit that I didn’t find much of the feedback very valuable. For the most part, I think I may have dismissed about 80 percent of the suggestions. Why? Well, I felt that they didn’t understand what I was trying to convey in my story. Second, there was no chemistry with the group or the instructor. So after the class was done, I had a little more than half of the first draft written and the story’s conclusion was no where near in sight (in fact, I had no clue how to end it).

After six months of writing and still wanting to get feedback I signed up for another session. With this group of writers and the instructor there was instant chemistry. They also understood what I was attempting to say and provided me with valuable suggestions.

This second time around, I took what was said very seriously, but I still felt I needed more feedback and I took an advanced fiction writing class via MediaBistro. Like the first class, there was no chemistry, the feedback I received was very critical and not constructive; I suppose I felt a sort of one upmanship with several of the participants–one woman, during a critique of a chapter I submitted, blurted out that the whole premise of  the story was  ridiculous. Of course I was shattered and I started to doubt myself. After that experience, I decided that maybe I should lay off the workshops. They were expensive and I wasn’t moving forward with the story (not to mention my ego was very bruised)

When NANOWRIMO came along I decided that I would set aside my WIP and work on this idea about a magazine called Julius. And that’s how my current WIP came about. What about the first one? It’s been shelved and most likely won’t be resuscitated (at least not in the near future).

After starting Julius I wanted to workshop it, but this time I wanted to find a place that would not be expensive and that was available 24/7 so I looked online and discovered The Internet Writing Workshop. During these past three years, Julius has been submitted in pieces. Some people like it others don’t, and that’s to be expected. Do I get annoyed and does my ego get tweaked when the reader simply doesn’t “get it?” Yeah, but now that I’ve started to resubmit again, I’m tougher with myself; I really look at the feedback and what I should change to improve the story.

Workshopping your WIP and getting harsh critiques can be very demoralizing, but they can also be very valuable. After three paid workshops and participating on the Novel’s List on IWW what have I learned? SHELF THE EGO. Critically look at the comments and analyze what works and what doesn’t. You already know that some stuff will have to go, and you might have to say bye-bye to other sections.

I look at workshopping now as precursor to what an agent and editor will tell you. When you get represented by an  agent, she or he will want you to make changes. If it’s sold, your editor will have his or her suggestions, and you’ll be revising again. Grow a tough skin, take a good hard look at your story and the feedback it gets, and sharpen that red pencil because you’ll be doing this for quite a while.

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