by Gayle Towell
You just crapped out some prose and you’re so happy about your fresh pile that you want to show it to someone right away.
If you can bring something to workshop in your writing group, then you’ll feel like you’re moving forward. “I have written! I have a document with writing on it that I am sharing with others!”
Workshops are great because you can just come with some vague mess of words and those people will make it good for you.
No, that’s not you. You would never do any of those things. But maybe your friend Moe would, and you’ve been trying to tell Moe it’s unappreciated.
A reader posed the question recently of whether there was merit in workshopping rough work vs something that’s already been revised. Depending on your motivation (this is critical) there can be merit in bringing your work to workshop at any stage.
Think of your workshoppers as your coaches. If you’re going to learn a new sport or get good at your game, having a coach there for the whole journey can be useful to keep you from going off track, developing bad habits, hurting yourself, etc. Likewise, touching base with fellow writers as you construct your work can keep you from losing perspective and writing yourself into some literary death spiral.
But considering your motivation is the key. What are you hoping to gain in showing this work to others for feedback? Are you just wanting a pat on the back and a “Good job! You wrote a thing!” or do you have an actual question you need answered? Are you unsure of how something is sounding? Are you unsure of a specific plot twist? Do you not know how to clean up the prose? And so on. You should be looking to further the work, not your pride or ego, and you should prepare the work to the best of your ability for the purpose to which you seek guidance.
If you still know of things to fix and tweak, then it’s usually a good idea to do those things first unless holding off on them won’t actually hinder anyone’s ability to give you feedback on the thing you’re unsure of. And don’t be afraid to just discuss your ideas with your team. No reason to force them to fumble through unpolished prose to answer your question about whether the premise works.
If your reason for sharing rough work is because then these other people can turn it into something good, then you’re going to have a bad time. It’s like showing up to basketball practice and you just sort of half-ass lob the ball in the general direction of the hoop and ask the coach to make you do it better. The coach is not going to feel inclined to train you because you’re clearly not even trying. It’s fine to be shitty at the sport or need improvement on your layup, but the coach is there to guide you, not make you. And maybe you already know you need to do more cardio before you’ll be game-ready, but it’s still okay to ask for guidance on free shots in the meantime.
To summarize, when determining if you should bring your work in to workshop given its current state, you should:
- know what it is you are seeking feedback on,
- have your work prepared to the point where people will be able to give such feedback,
- make it clear to your workshoppers what you’re looking for
If Moe would do this more, then we could all love him again.