Being a reflection on what I have learnt from the workshopping process (at undergraduate level, so far).
Is it really a terror? Well, yes, and certainly if it is approached in the wrong way. Never mind having work critiqued, the first time that an aspiring writer participates in a writers’ workshop is potentially the first time they have shown their work to another living being! You also get aspiring writers' who have had friends and family look at their work who have then given it the thumbs-up purely through loyalty. This positive feedback and confidence is then swiftly crushed when their work is critiqued properly.
This is easier said than done, but it is the first and most crucial point to surviving the workshopping process. Workshopping allows a writer to test drive their work on an audience; from this they can see what works, what doesn’t work and what needs to be improved. Like all artists, a writer can become too attached to their work and there is the potential that they can take negative comments quite personally. The problem then is that they will become stubborn, won’t change their work and ultimately their work won’t improve.
This is why, if you are an aspiring writer, you need to establish a distance between yourself and your work. By this I don’t mean you have to completely disown your work when it comes to being critiqued, but rather that you accept your work as being only an expression or opinion of yourself and not you entirely.
The way that I go about distancing myself is by focusing on the gap between actually writing the piece and workshopping it. Therefore, the piece I have submitted is an expression of me but the me as I was when I was actually writing it. Between writing it and workshopping I would have changed physically and mentally; maybe not much, but certainly enough for me to justify a distance between myself and my work.
A way to further refine this technique is to submit a piece of life writing: something that really is directly about yourself. The more painful and personal the piece - the better, because if you can survive a critique of that you’ll be set for anything!
After I have had a piece of work critiqued I am always handed back annotated copies. While these collectively will contain all the points that were raised I still like to write down my own notes during the workshop session. Doing this makes it quicker to collect together all the key points before hand, opposed to pillaging through all the annotated copies later. Writing notes is also a good technique for distancing yourself, because being bent over and scribbling on a notepad is much more indirect than just sitting across from someone who is directly talking to you and pulling apart your work!
Act upon the comments.
I always try to rewrite my piece as soon as possible, changing any errors and making any suggested improvements. As I believe it’ll be less effective weeks or months down the line; you won’t remember half the points raised and you won’t want to go through all the annotated copies. But if do leave it to some later time this is where taking your own notes comes in handy.
This is not essential but certainly useful if there are still some nagging points in your mind. You might as well take advantage of an audience why you have it.
Be polite and level-headed.
A member of your workshop group may not be particularly enthusiastic about your piece, but that is no reason to bite their head off! They may not like it just because you have written a poem and they are not altogether keen on poems. Also, some people may struggle to get their views across, so in this case be patient or just give them a hand. Finally, at the end of a person’s contribution say thank you, even if you don’t agree with them. If you show that you are courteous with any form of feedback then they won't be afraid to tell you what they really think in future - your work will benefit from this.
If you are an aspiring writer and are too pig headed to adapt to the process of workshopping then you probably shouldn’t be a writer, or at least a writer who expects to have an audience. But if you are willing to get to grips with workshopping and keep at it very quickly it will become much less painful and much more productive.