Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop, Part 4: Consensus--Nurturing Grandma or Wolf Pack?

What if everyone in your creative writing workshop agrees, more or less, that a certain change is necessary in one of your works? I would write that suggestion down in large letters with multiple asterisks, and I’d underline it. I would think very long and hard before I ignored any advice with that strong a consensus behind it. The chances are good that advice that arrives in that form is worth taking, though you usually have to bend it and massage it a little so it makes sense on your own terms.
But it can happen at moments that workshops will take on a wolf-pack mentality, and everyone will jump on a certain little thing in a poem or a prose work and critique it en masse. This is generally a sign for you, the writer, that you need to pay extremely serious attention to this comment. But—on occasion—it can be a sign that you are on to something exciting, and that all your critics are completely wrong. If the work that provokes this wolf attack is edgy, scary, and your peers and even your instructors all jump on it exactly because it is some of the bravest work you’ve ever done, maybe they are just not ready to hear it yet.
So how do you know if a consensus is really a wolf pack? If you look and listen, you can feel the difference. What are the tones of voices? Are the other writers in your workshop trying with gentle humor and support to help you with your blind spot? Or are they showing their own blind spots in their panicky, nervous, or hostile reactions? There is a difference between a grandma and a wolf—look for the big teeth. 

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: 
Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6


  1. Thanks for posting this, Zack. I like the part where you mention that one could be onto something exciting. Either way, whether a writer is going to take the advice or not, it's exciting that a section was singled out. This post would be a good hand-out for MFA students.

    1. Vivian:

      I'm glad this entry was useful. I'm looking at this blog as a kind of manual for creative writing students, something you can read and then throw in the drawer in your kitchen under the flashlight and screwdrivers and chargers for phones you no longer own. Well, I hope it won't be that obscure!