So, I’m in two courses right now for workshopping fiction, and it’s striking me how utterly bad at it certain people are. This is a collection of my knowledge gained just this week alone.
It’s been a long week, and next week my work is going up for trial again (just submitted a piece), but I had a very particular experience workshopping the first chapter of my novel, Children of Conflict.
Sometimes, when you get someone else’s work and you’re asked to read and comment on it, you totally get it, and every comment you make is helpful. That’s always a great moment. That’s a rare sort of thing, though, and you’re much more likely to not quite get it, and even sometimes not get it at all.
Because this is the most common situation, actually, not quite getting it, I think it’s very important to be a kind as possible when workshopping. I mean, obviously be honest. Be blunt where you have to, but be nice about it.
The first step in this is by being sure to say that you like something if you like it. And if you can’t find anything you like, think really hard. There must be SOMETHING they’re doing well, even if it’s just using a word you like.
The second step is tempering all negative comments. A comma out of place is a comma out of place, but just because you don’t like the tone of something, or don’t think they’ve used the right word, doesn’t always mean you’re right. They might have carefully selected that tone and simply need to refine it, or they may have picked that word for very specific reasons you simply aren’t getting. Not all writing is the same, nor should it be. Avoid harsh language. Delivering such comments in person can be tempered by tone of voice, but when you write it down, the words stand out starkly for themselves.
Delicacy is key.
Finally, the most important thing to remember when workshopping is to be constructive. Be kind. You’re meant to give advice that’s helpful, not tear someone down utterly. Even if you think you’re being constructive, you might not be, so if you’re worried that your comments are too harsh, run them by someone else first! You may not be the target audience, but at least you can try to think like the target audience.
As with everything in life, it’s usually better to err on the side of nice, especially if you’re not very good friends and know that writer’s emotional limits or even their train of thought with the piece.