Ah Workshop, the moment in every writers life where they sit surrounded by their peers waiting for judgement. From that awkward silence at the beginning, going around the room and introducing yourselves and then returning to your rooms to re-read everyone’s story now being able to put a face with the writing. Honestly, workshop is my favorite part of my entire educational career. In that moment, I feel like people care about what the one thing I want to do, write. That, under the supervision of the workshop leader, they provide me with praise and suggestions one the moments in my piece that either worked or slowed the pacing.
Or, in blunt terms, this is where I stopped reading and why.
Hey, not everyone is nice and trust me, writers never share what they are really thinking in workshop! We are taught to talk in circles, be nice about our critiques to not discourage the writer. However, there are other ways to discourage your fellow, vulnerable writers in workshop.
Here are the people to look out for:The Doodler/Wanna-be-Artist:
Every get a piece back from someone and, right in the corner of your beautiful manuscript is a drawing? Most likely having nothing to do with your story? I had someone in my workshop group who loved drawing eyes as his “signature” or as “a way to keep him focused.” I would believe that if he actually finished writing comments on my story after his signature eye appeared on the page. No sir, the eye appearing on the page means you were bored and stopped reading. Thanks.
Not all Doodlers are bad. Sometimes, they draw on the page because it really does help them focus. Other times, they are bored either with the story or the discussion revolving around your story, the black ink pen held firmly within their grasp just sketching away on your work in progress. Don’t worry, its not like I worked really hard on that for you to sketch an eye in five minutes. My favorite are the creative doodlers who find interesting ways to spell out their name. I’m already fascinated by how people sign their names at the end of their critique (if you are required to write out a letter or your critique in paragraph form). Some people choose to type it, either keeping the same font or choosing a more cursive font. Others print the page and sign it in pencil which tends to smear at some point between their arrival on campus and the day of critique during residency. There are big signatures, small signatures and sometimes, no signature at all just comments and a period. Doodlers will play around with their signature and other notations. One girl in workshop not only used a different, handwritten font for each critique she did for our workshop but she also did them in different colors!
No surprise, she also loved drawing all over the stories as well. It looked like a rainbow of comments threw up on everyone’s manuscripts. The worse part, she wrote all of her positive comments in lime green. Like, highlighter lime green! Couldn’t even make out the words without getting a headache. At least her drawings were good.
Now I know I’m not the only writer who waits anxiously for critique day and sees one student walk in with a copy of their story that looks like somehow it caught on fire, stepped on, shredded, glued back together, dropped in a puddle and then used as tissue paper to wipe some unmentionable area? The person however is fine, unscathed from the war zone they’ve managed to crawl away from. I’ve seen grease stains to something green and boogerish on the corners of my pages, not to mention crumpled, torn or soggy pages but…thanks for the critique?
Sometimes, if you can find or read them, the notes are really good! My mind always wanders away from the actual critique, imagining what must have happened to this student and my story!
First thought: Was my story THAT bad?
Second thought: Was your trip here THAT bad?
Though they may be filled with helpful advice, its best to have a conversation with a Survivalist just to make sure you receive the feedback that used to be on the page with left over food stains, those two pages that are now stuck together or the one with crushed fly, one of its legs still twitching.
Several writers I know drink coffee. I prefer tea, juice or soda but not while I’m critiquing. Why? Because I know I’m prone to spilling. But I’m not going to focus on those icky brown stains slowly stretching from the corner of the page dampening the writers hard work and spirits in one, fowl, Folgers smelling swoop! I’m talking about something that’s much worse. Something that has appeared on my short stories more than once!
The ring of a coffee mug.
REALLY? You put your drink ON my story? Not on the table that might be in your vicinity or maybe on your pants leg but on my story? That’s cool that you feel like what my story was lacking was a big old brown ring on the page. Thank you for adding that for me but I’m going to say that we’ll have to part ways now.
Artistic differences and all.
I understand if you accidentally spill your coffee on my story while critiquing it. We all spill things and no human is without their incidents of clumsiness but to place your coffee mug on my paper takes effort. Takes time to think out from the moment you want to put your coffee mug down to the time it takes you to decide where to put it. What are you thinking?!
Obviously, not about my story.
So normally you read the materials before you arrive to workshop, having your notes written out or in the margins so you are able to join the discussion. Then, there are the students who keep their heads down or hidden behind a computer screen. Its those quiet ones you have to look out for. Somebody either didn’t finish your story or bother glancing at it.
Now before I receive all this hate speech about people having lives that take away from their critiquing time, let me just say that the other twelve people participating in the same workshop as you also have lives that took away from their critiquing time but somehow they managed to finish reading and critiquing the story. Don’t even get me started about the workshop leader who is probably a successful author, teacher, mother, father, husband, wife, hustler.
What’s worse is that they don’t say anything during the workshop, no input at all which can be very hurtful. I know I work hard on every piece I write and something that will completely diminish my workshop spirit is someone who just glances at my story and moves on. Doesn’t even put in the same effort as I did with their story. So while everyone is praising your work or offering you things to consider, The Reader is sitting in their seat, looking down at your story, flipping through the pages. When they hand you back your story, most likely, it will just be a summary of everyone’s comments.
Because, unfortunately, they couldn’t be bothered.
I saved The Day-Dreamer for last because we are all a little guilty of daydreaming. Sometimes we can’t help but zone out during a workshop discussion but normally we can snap back and recover. Not a dangerous Day-Dreamer who spends the entire discussion staring out the window, not contributing because they’d rather be somewhere else, are inspired by the work they just read and are already planning their next story, they didn’t find the story interesting or they are really shy and don’t think their ideas would add anything to the conversation.
Either way, beware the symptoms: eyes glazing over, chin cradled by their palm, hands scratching their cheek, elbow supported by table and staring into the distance or out the window. Prone to blank stares and fits of stuttering when startled.
Their redeeming quality is that they are probably really shy or this is their first workshop so don’t be afraid to include them in the conversation. Who knows? You might be taking the first steps in finding your best writer friend for life.
So matter the situation, whether you are in a small or large workshop group, you will encounter one (but hopefully not all) of these people who are equally ready to join the writing world but may not display the same presentation or body language standards as you do.
Have you ever encountered one of these people in your workshops? Do you have any other workshopees to look out for?
This post is in response to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.