Writing groups and workshops definitely aren’t for everyone. First, if you want an audience and not a critique, you probably shouldn’t participate. Second, if you can’t take criticism or don’t have a thick skin, you shouldn’t join a review group. In the first workshop I ever took, a woman read a short story about a day in the life of a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed the story, but I was one of the few people in the class who did. After hearing a few negative comments, the writer stormed out of the room in tears and never returned. Recently, a new writer joined one of my writing groups. The first few times she attended, she listened to others read and commented but didn’t bring any of her own work. Finally she came with a piece of her own writing. Four of six of us who commented on her piece all made the same observation, though we phrased it differently. In response she vehemently defended the piece and told us that we just didn’t get it. Sure if one person in the group makes a comment you don’t agree with, you probably should dismiss it, but if almost everyone has the same negative response, you need to realize that you have an issue.
By participating in my writing groups and workshops, I’ve learned that not everyone will like what I write. I wouldn’t expect them to either. Just because they don’t like it though, doesn’t mean their critique won’t be helpful. When I was writing Waiting for Ethan, I took a class in which the rest of the attendees were working on literary fiction. I actually saw the instructor cringe when I told her I was working on chicklit, which she told me to call contemporary women’s fiction. Despite her dislike for my genre, she asked me questions about my plot and my character’s motivations. Her questions made me think about things I hadn’t considered and helped me shape my novel. In fact, I thought up and created Ajee, an essential character in the story, while responding to one of her questions.
I start a new workshop next week, and I’ll have the opportunity to receive feedback on 50 pages. When I’m giving feedback, I’ll be sure to do it in a supportive manner. When people are critiquing my work, I’ll be sure to listen to what they say and waste no time defending what I wrote. Before I make any revisions, I will carefully consider all the comments. I will think about whether they are one-offs or if there’s a consensus. If there is a consensus, I will definitely make updates, and if a one-off comment resonates with me, I will also make edits. And no matter what, at the end of the workshop, I’ll have 50 new pages of my work in progress and be that much closer to finishing my novel.