Second year English Literature student Becky Liddell takes the fear out of creative writing workshops:
The idea of people giving feedback on your work can be daunting. At first, the concept of showing other people my writing in a workshop was like someone casually suggesting I waltz into a room full of strangers wielding magnifying glasses and measuring tapes, ready to judge my every imperfection. You start wringing your hands, don’t look people in the eye, suck in your metaphorical stomach and look shiftily from side to side.
The fact is, when you walk into the workshop for the first time, everyone (except maybe the professor) looks like they feel just the same as you do. It’s oddly comforting, seeing other people share your discomfort, which soon fades away when you find out that, contrary to what your new flatmates teased you about, everyone else hasn’t already written a novel and had a poetry anthology published. In reality, everyone just wants to write, and to the best of their ability. Unless you seriously want to, you don’t have to write your deepest darkest secrets in iambic pentameter, dark red ink and complex calligraphy. People just want to get better at what they love, and help you get better too.
It’s much better to think of the class as people holding maps with new roads you might take. Showing people your writing in a workshop makes your writing a collaborative process, with you in the front seat. It’s easy to think of your critics as pesky backseat drivers who don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, but they can help you find a shortcut you weren’t aware of, or tell you about a beautiful path you can take if you take a slight turning. They’re out to help you, and to receive your help in return on their work. If you’ve been writing for a while it can add a whole new dimension to your work. If you’re relatively new to it all, your classmates and seminar leader can help point you in the right directions. The best part is that sometimes people can make you see value in parts of your work that you hadn’t realised.
Ultimately though, everything is up to you. Creative writing workshops are support systems for like-minded people. It’s like having a team of advisors. When it comes to your work, you’re the boss, and you can do whatever you want to do, but people advise you on what might work best, so it’s good to listen. While doing things entirely your way can work out sometimes, it’s more of a laugh if you do it alongside a bunch of other writers.