I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a freshman in college I had a large affinity with writing. I wanted to be a writer–whether that meant being an English Professor, a Journalist, a Technical writer, Freelance or a novelist. Of course, like most undergrad students, I changed my major several times through the course of my college career. Though while an “english” major I had many experiences with the dreaded writing workshop.
Any writer, will attest to having some type of experience with writers workshops and the feelings and experiences obviously vary. For me, writers workshops weren’t helpful and if anything I ended up having an intense loathing for the workshops. It’s hard to describe why I didn’t enjoy the experiences, but needless to say I felt as if it didn’t help me as a writer only made me feel “attacked” and terribly insecure about my writing style and my work. I hated when we sat around, in a group circle, and each person went around saying what they didn’t enjoy about my paper. Sometimes it made me feel like crap. Other times I became defensive–“How dare you talk about my paper when your paper looked as though it was written by a sixth grader?” And reading my colleagues papers, tended to have extreme effects on me–either I felt like crap because they wrote a paper that was far better than my own or I felt like laughing because of the serious of errors, misspellings and complete and utter disorganization that I found when proofing these particular papers.
I noticed I wasn’t the only one who didn’t enjoy the workshops. Several classmates would leave the class with reddened faces, or with an overly defensive attitude because their paper was criticized. Sometimes we would have long debates about how sucky someone’s paper was–to that person’s face mind you–and then of course the main person doing the attacking, would then experience a dose of karma, when the person that was attacked begins attacking the previous attacker’s paper. I tried many ways to avoid these workshops. Coming to class late, while they were reviewing my paper. Telling the professor I didn’t want to participate. Trying to be as kind as possible when evaluating someone’s paper. In the end I always found myself–butterflies and all–listening to a group of people who could barely write, critiquing my work.
I always wondered how someone could tell me how I should write, when I clearly had a different writing style, and/or they completely “lost” the context of the paper I wrote-which by the way is not MY fault. If I can understand my paper, then it’s my problem that they “lost” the main points…
I also felt irritated with teachers who insisted that workshops were helpful, because they allowed us improve our writing. In reality, they only caused me to change my writing style to “fit” the critiques and red markings that covered my essays, poems, and short stories. In reality these workshops made me feel MORE insecure as a writer, and even sometimes propelled me to write in a certain manner for fear of being critiqued for writing in my “own” style.
In short, I didn’t feel as if I was improving as a writer in my own style, but more like I was being forced to do what others told me to do.
Later on, when I graduated college, I realized that they were more helpful than I thought, and in a way I felt thankful for the experience to learn how to be a better writer.
What are your experiences? Do you find that writers workshops are helpful? Do you feel as though they’ve made you a better writer?