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Although the so-called “ground rules” of a writing workshop are written out, let’s discuss some of them, too. First, focus on the positive. We want to discuss the positive aspects of the story so the writer can build on those strengths. Traditional writing workshops, and I don’t think this is so often the case anymore, they emphasize all the things the writer needs to fix, the things that are “wrong” with the story. I’ve always found that bizarre, deflating, and unnecessary. We are talking about a rough draft, not draft eight. While you should have done some cleaning up of the draft before submitting it—like fix some of the basic errors in punctuation or spelling along with some minor tweaks to the story, if you had time, rough drafts earned their name because they are just that: rough. Mark passages you enjoy, passages you feel catch something essential to the piece, or passages that confused you. Being a writer is a vulnerable endeavor as is being a musician, photographer, sculptor, and painter regardless of your level. Building up the strengths of the artistic works while also offering respectful advice is an effective way to get better at one’s craft.
Generic comments like I like it or it’s really good are the white bread of comments; they taste good but don’t add anything of value. Be specific with your feedback. Again, we also share constructive critiques on how to make the writing better. Be respectful to your fellow writers. Show the writer that you put effort into your comments and you were an active reader. One of the most helpful things you can do during a critique is to ask the writer questions, which some workshops refer to as wonderings, so you can begin questions with I wonder…and go from there.
Lastly, when your piece is being discussed, and this is not easy to do, you remain quiet. I urge you to take notes and write down questions you might have based on the feedback you are getting. After comments are made, you can certainly talk about your piece after. Okay, let’s workshop your story!
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