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Ten Tips to Make the Most of Your Workshop by Jennifer Kircher Carr

When your story is “up”:

  • Assume positive intent. We’ll all in this together! Assume that your fellow workshoppers are offering feedback to help you grow, and help your story be the best that it can be.
  • Sit in silence at first. You’ll get the most benefit from the experience if you listen to unfiltered feedback from your readers. If everyone is confused on a point, or interpreting something that is not what you intended, listen to what they are saying, and take it as a point to address in revision.
  • Ask questions at the end. After everyone has given you unfiltered feedback, then you can take a few minutes and tell what you intended, and ask for help trying to better get those elements across.
  • Submit a piece representative of you and your writing. Even if it’s an early draft, make sure that you read it through and correct any misspellings or obvious errors so that your reviewers are not distracted by sloppiness on the page and can focus on the story.
  • Leave your ego at the door. It can be hard to hear constructive criticism on a piece that you’ve put your heart and soul into, but have faith that the feedback you’re receiving will ultimately help you improve this work, and help you improve your overall writing skills.

When you are a reviewer:

  • Focus on the big stuff. No one needs to spend time talking about a particular word choice or misuse of grammar. This can be handled through line edits.  
  • Don’t tell your story, unless it is brief and to illustrate a point about what you’re reviewing. Remember that workshop minutes are finite, and you’ll have your chance in the spotlight soon. Let this other writer have the full focus for these precious minutes.
  • Use the “sandwich” method of feedback. Start with positive feeding, “sandwiching” constructive suggestions in the middle, and ending with positive. Name at least one thing you loved about the piece. There is always something to love!
  • Be mindful of other reviewers. While it’s important to offer your feedback, do your part to ensure every reviewer gets a chance to speak. No one person should “own” or monopolize the interpretation of or suggestions for the story.
  • Leave your ego at the door.  Writing is personal business. In order to make the most out of workshops, we need to give graciously to help our fellow workshoppers grow.

Jennifer Kircher Carr is a writer living in western New York. Her fiction is published in numerous literary journals, including Prairie SchoonerAlaska QuarterlyThe RumpusStoryscape,North American Review,  and The Nebraska Review, where she also won the Fiction Prize. Her non-fiction is published in Poets & WritersPloughshares blog, and Edible Finger Lakes, among others. Her work-in-progress includes a novel and a collection of linked stories.