by Sarah Earle
I vividly remember the atmosphere of one of my first creative writing workshops. I was nineteen, in college in Montreal, Quebec, with a now long-dead professor, his raft of gray hair yellowed by cigarette smoke. It was cold outside (it was always cold outside) and unreasonably hot inside, and the mix of windowless conference room and sweaty bodies and nervous excitement converged into a cauldron of thrillingly uncomfortable mystique. When the professor opened up discussion for the student short story at hand, a thick silence prevailed, a moment that was almost unbearable if the story was my own. Egos in the workshop were routinely bruised, mainly because they were so soft and vulnerable to begin with, but also because we were competitive, vying for our professors’ favor and the same departmental awards. But despite that fear of not being good enough, the collective discussion that our workshops generated was motivating. The lively way we could be truthful with each other—if a heartbreak scene was overly maudlin, or the intended point clouded by obscure language—left me fulfilled, convinced that we, a group of hopelessly young things in a dark room in a vibrant city were up to Efforts of Real Importance.
While that fear of bruised ego has long since lessened with age and experience, I still carry those feelings of Efforts of Importance into workshopping. What is more stimulating for a writer than to discuss their words with other writers, the organization of their thoughts, the themes and meanings that are emerging? Workshopping done well—that is, constructive workshopping beyond the constraints of quick judgement and competition—allows writers to challenge themselves to take their work farther, to make connections they haven’t yet claimed, and on a larger level, to join into the collective task of meaning-making. It’s edifying, vital work. And, to this day, it’s this meeting of the writer-mind that brings me right back to the giddy, mystical excitement I experienced, all those years ago in the early days of workshop.
In my upcoming 8-week online, generative/craft/critique workshop, “The Art of Narrative: a Weekly Workshop,” (starting September 8), we’ll be focusing on the inherent value of sharing our work and the consciously constructive type of critique needed for fostering confidence and forward motion. No one in this workshop should worry about bruised egos– we’ll be meeting the writer where they are, becoming aware of their intentions, and helping them move forward in good faith. I hope you’ll join us. Register here for Sarah’s online generative/critique group!