A writing workshop usually involves active participation. As well as writing, writers are often asked to critique the work of others. Learn a few basic skills here to help you feel more comfortable with this task.
Beginning and emerging writers often decide to attend a writing workshop where they hope to improve or increase their writing skills. Attendance at writing workshops is usually mixed, with a wide range of writing ability and experience evident. Some beginning writers prefer to sit back and absorb as much information as possible, while others want to be hands on and do a bit of practical work. Both options are usually part of any writing workshop.
A workshop calls for participation. One thing writers attending their first writing workshop should be prepared for is participation in critiquing other people’s work. This is, after all a workshop, not a seminar, and critiquing is a valuable tool for any writer to learn and participate in.
A little prior preparation goes a long way. Critiquing can be somewhat daunting if you’ve never done it before, but if you go to the workshop with a general knowledge of what may be expected, you won’t feel as if you’ve slipped into a big gaping hole. You don’t have to be an expert to critique, but it pays to have a general idea about what works for you and what doesn’t as a reader of someone else’s work.There are a few general tips that will help you feel more comfortable with critiquing.
The role of a critique is to help another writer know how to improve their work, if that is what is needed. It is meant to be a positive process, with constructive feedback. Remember to critique the writing, not the person writing it.
Read the piece of work carefully, thinking about what makes the piece work or not work for you as a reader. In a workshop it is most likely the piece of writing will be short, either pre-written and brought on the day, or actually produced within a set time period at the workshop. Remember a spontaneous piece will not be a finished product, whereas the pre-written piece has probably seen several drafts.
Make notes as you read. If something captures your attention note it down. If a sentence or phrase doesn’t flow smoothly or feel quite right, make a note of it. When you’ve finished reading the piece, go back to the parts you’ve noted down. Read them again, thinking about why they feel great or why they don’t work for you. Then, think about how you’d try to fix it up if that is what is required. Remember, critiquing is meant to be a tool to help fellow writers.
What is your reaction to the piece? Write down your initial feelings about the work, remembering to say why. Comments are not constructive unless you have good reasons for making them. For a beginner this can be difficult if you haven’t yet developed enough writing jargon to feel confident in what you’re saying. But, you’re presumably an experienced reader and this is how you should look at the piece.
Consider strengths and weaknesses. It is of little help telling a writer there work is really good. Think about why you feel that way. A writer will want to know what it is about the part you’ve commented on that makes it work for you. Likewise, feedback on weaknesses should be couched in a positive way, such as maybe you could try…… or have you considered…..?
Critiquing is a valuable skill for writers to develop. Critiquing is a two way process of learning and helping others. Critiquing the work of others and listening to other feedback in a workshop helps a writer look more closely at their own work. It helps you become more aware of common errors in writing and enables you to try and avoid them.
If you are about to attend your first writing workshop, it is best to go with an expectation of what may happen. It probably won’t be all about learning new skills, but could require you to do some thinking and writing. That’s what writing workshops are designed for. Hopefully these few general tips will give you a little confidence in what may be expected of you if critiquing is part of the programme.
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