23 July 2007

Workshopping woes

Today, I'm wearing my writing-teacher's hat, though my topic can affect writers in writing groups as well. Earlier today I was doing my class prep for tomorrow's classes, and leafing through some paper, looking for something. What I did find was an email for a past student (last year's? Or the year before's?). She thanked me for the class and the effort I was putting in to their workshopping, but wanted to complain about students who were not putting in as much effort to their comments as she would. She had calculated the number of hours she would spend each week commenting on other people's work but was finding that only two of the small group she was in was putting in equal time and wondered if I could organise the small groups so that all the dedicated people were together and put all those non-dedicated people into another group together.

As it was, it was a non-issue because my preferred method of workshopping is whole class, but there still is the problem of people not putting in equal time. It frustrates the dedicated students. I know this because I get complaints on mid-year and end-of-year evaluations. I saw people getting frustrated at Clarion too.

Most students/writers can see the value of having their writing workshopped. Sometimes it may be more painful than having a dentist spray cold air over a hole in a tooth, but in the end it's a valuable process, and one we all learn from. What students often don't realise is that they will learn as much or more from the comments they write on other people's work as what they will from comments written on their own.

It's a strange thing how we don't see the errors in our own work, but shining a light on the errors in other people's work help us to spot them in our own. That's the learning process in steps:
1. spot errors in someone else's work and point them out
2. spot errors in own work and learn to correct them
3. stop making errors in own work.

Diligent workshoppers will get far more out of the workshopping process than the slackers who can't be bothered, whether or not they get good comments back on their own work. They will learn more quickly than they otherwise would have. Those who aren't diligent aren't serious about their craft, and they will not progress as quickly as if they put in the effort. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as those who work hard will always get on quicker than those who don't because other things come into play like latent talent and how quickly both learn, but ultimately it comes down to the more effort we put in, the better we quicker we will improve. You can lay money on it.


Lisa66 said...

Hi Tracey

I found this a real problem when I was a student, especially when I did an online subject as we were placed in small groups for workshopping. The first group I was in had some people who barely commented on any work submitted for workshopping which was frustrating. I found the same people were defensive about their own work and took any suggestions as a personal attack.
I think workshopping can be really valuable but it does depend on the quality and effort of the critique group. As far as critiquing work myself I have always put in maximum effort, but I do know that in the beginning I was pretty hopeless at knowing what exactly was wrong (or right) with a piece. I could give my opinion on whether something was working for me or clear to me but that was about it. Of course as I gained experience I got better at it!
I guess the other issue is the size of the group and how supportive it is. When I did Novel 2 we had a small class and everyone was very supportive of each other. Most people put a lot of effort into workshopping and everyone seemed to engage in the spirit of workshopping ie no one got defensive when their work was criticised. I learnt heaps that year!

Tracey said...

Hi, Lisa.

Yes, it's interesting to see people who are new to workshopping have a go at it. I think we all forget that we may be new at writing/workshopping, but we *are* experienced readers. But, yes, as we gain more experience, we're able to be more precise in why things are or aren't working and how to improve them.

Yes, people who are defensive don't get nearly as much out of the experience as they otherwise would. We really do need to be thick-skinned when writing. Alligator-skinned. And, as you point out, a supportive workshopping group/class can teach you so much. I think I learnt 90% of my writing skills through workshopping.