Workshops are strange

A big part of creative writing programs, for better or worse, is the workshop system. Every week, you bring in comments on people’s pieces and then sit around talking about them. The main rules are to say good things at some point, to talk about the piece impersonally, and that the author doesn’t participate. All the criticism of workshops and the whole system of creative writing within academia aside, I do on the whole find them helpful. People are forced to give you comments on your work. That’s (usually going to be) useful.

This year, workshops have started happening again. This time, though, they’re not in creative writing groups, which has made the whole experience vaguely bizarre. As far as I can tell, there are no rules. No one is worrying about talking about the good qualities of the piece. No one is worrying about pretending they’re talking about a random piece that they are not at all connected to. People say the word “you” all the time. There’s no talk of “the author” or “the piece.” Instead, people just throw out their ideas when they feel like it, making eye contact, waiting for you to respond.

Overall, it’s been quite unsettling. I much prefer the (artificial) anonymity created in creative writing workshops. Creative writers are supposed to have thick skin and let criticism and rejection roll off of them. Having received my fair share of rejections, I’m pretty good at this. Less so with the criticism bit, though, which is why the distance created in creative writing classes is comforting. It makes hearing the criticism easier.

At any rate, I’m not saying that this style of workshop is not useful, but it is very different and I’m still getting used to it. We have another one coming up tomorrow, this time for my thesis prospectus, so perhaps I’ll have more thoughts on that once that’s over.


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