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Searching for a Writer's Workshop? Here's What to Look For


Regardless of your age or what point you are at in your writing career, attending a writer's workshop can help you improve your writing skills and boost your confidence while providing an opportunity to connect with other writers. If you feel a bit overwhelmed or intimidated at the thought of figuring out which workshop is right for you, keep reading for tips on how to choose a good fit.

How will a writer's workshop help me?

Many writers thrive under the pressure of a deadline but flounder without one, so a writer's workshop is a great way to create a legitimate deadline and hold yourself to it. It will behoove you to do your best work and meet the workshop's deadline, because you will receive valuable feedback and tips about how to improve your essay, story, or argument.

Typically, a writer's workshop will include a leader or facilitator and a group of workshop participants. The facilitator and your fellow participants will read your work and offer constructive feedback to help improve your story, and you will do the same for them. This is one of the most valuable aspects of a writer's workshop: By critiquing other writers' work, you will gain new skills and become a better writer.

In addition, attending a writer's workshop will most likely give you the opportunity to read your work aloud in front of your peers, which can give you a fresh perspective on your own writing. When you read your work aloud, you are more likely to notice awkward phrases, repeated words, or other errors that you might miss when reading to yourself at home.

How do I find a writer's workshop?

If you are a student in community college, undergraduate, or grad school, you can probably find a good selection of writing workshops available on your campus. Many larger universities have writing centers that offer services such as writing workshops to help you improve your writing skills, so start your search by finding out if your institution has a writing center. Even if workshops aren't offered through your writing center, the staff of the writing center will help you find the right place to look.

If you can't find any writing workshops offered through your learning institution, talk to your favorite professor and consider starting your own. Taking the initiative to start your own writer's workshop could provide valuable experience that will enhance your resume while also giving you all of the benefits you can typically expect from a writer's workshop.

If you are not enrolled in college, you can still find an ample selection of writer's workshops to attend, but you might have to pay a fee or travel to join a workshop as part of a weekend retreat. This post focuses on writer's workshops for college students, but the qualities you'll be looking for will be pretty much the same whether you're in college or beyond.

How to select the right writer's workshop for you

  1. Identify which topics or genres resonate most with you: Most writer's workshops offer a brief lesson or period of instruction before participants share their work, so check each workshop's particular writing genre or topic. If you typically write creative nonfiction but struggle with your endings, you might get lucky and find a workshop that focuses on the art of writing powerful endings. If you thrive on creative writing but can't come up with any unique ideas lately, look for a creative writing workshop that will generate prompts for you. If you are struggling with how to cite your sources in your research papers, there is probably a citation workshop on your campus just waiting for you to sign up.
  2. Identify who is leading the workshop: If you find quite a few workshops with relevant topics in your area and you can't decide which one to attend, look at who is leading the workshop. If a beloved professor or teacher's assistant is leading the workshop, you might need to stop evaluating and just sign up. A workshop led by a well-liked teacher or popular writer in residence is likely to reach capacity quickly if there is a cap on attendance.
  3. Find out the workshop size: Speaking of attendance capacity, check to see how many participants will be allowed to enroll in each workshop before you sign up. Ask yourself if you are more likely to thrive in a small, intimate group with only a handful of attendees or if you will feel more engaged and stimulated if you are sharing your work with a room that is packed full of attendees.
  4. Find a class structure that fits with your writing process: A reputable writer's workshop should give you an overview of the schedule, number of participants, and information about who is leading the workshop. If the teacher and class size both look appealing to you, review the workshop structure. To identify what kind of structure will work best for you, consider your writing habits. Do you maintain a strict writing schedule in which you write at the same time every day without fail, but you rarely find time to go back and edit your work? If so, then you should probably seek a workshop that asks you to complete your writing ahead of time, so you will spend workshop time reading and critiquing other people's work, getting feedback on your work, and rewriting. Alternatively, if you struggle to find time to sit down and write, you would probably benefit most from enrolling in a workshop that schedules long periods of time dedicated to writing. Both formats have immense benefits, so just consider which format will be the most effective for you personally. Another aspect to consider when evaluating workshop structure is whether participants are asked to submit materials before the workshop. Many writer's workshops ask participants to upload their work to a group website before the workshop commences so everyone has a chance to read each other's work ahead of time. With this approach, you will spend a significant amount of time reading and preparing for the workshop, but you will arrive at the workshop with feedback and suggestions prepared. To ensure that you get the most out of your workshop, make sure to read the participant expectations before you enroll. If you know that you won't have time to read other people's essays before the workshop, keep looking for a workshop that does not require extensive reading beforehand.

If you visit your campus's writing center and ask yourself the questions listed above, you will find at least one writer's workshop to help you develop your skills as a writer.

How to prepare for your workshop

Now that you've selected and enrolled in a workshop, follow the tips below to maximize your success.

  1. Decide what piece you want to workshop: If you have a big assignment due after the writing workshop takes place, consider submitting the assignment for workshopping. Doing so will benefit you twice—you will go ahead and attack the assignment now and get it finished long before the class deadline, and you will get the opportunity to improve the piece based on how other students respond to your ideas. As an added bonus, your professor will probably recognize the extra effort you've put into the assignment and will hopefully reflect that in your grade.
  2. If you squirm at the idea of reading your work aloud in front of others or cringe at the thought of other people reading your work, take a moment to ask yourself why: Are you reluctant because this particular piece of writing is not your best, or are you insecure about the strength of your arguments? Be honest with yourself about any reasons for not wanting to share your work and address those issues accordingly. If you decide that shyness is the reason behind your hesitation, your upcoming writer's workshop could be your first step in overcoming your timidity. If you don't feel comfortable sharing your most recent piece, consider submitting an older piece for workshopping. If you wrote something that was recently rejected for publication but you believe the piece still has potential, workshop that. You will still learn valuable lessons that you can apply to your other writing as well.
  3. Prepare to give and receive constructive feedback: Writer's workshops function best when everyone is honest but not cruel. Give your fellow participants sincere feedback about what works and what doesn't, and try to give genuine suggestions about how they can improve any areas of weakness. Similarly, remind yourself that your fellow participants want to help you become a better writer. They are not there to destroy you, so accept any feedback with grace. If you resist your fellow writers' suggestions, people will stop trying to help you improve.

Now you are ready to get out there and find a writer's workshop that will help you grow into the best version of yourself.

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