Joining a creative writing workshop can be scary, especially for beginners, because allowing others to read your writing means also allowing them to criticize your work as well (hopefully in a constructive way). However, I think that the pros by far outweigh the cons. Here are some of the major advantages of creative writing workshops I have identified so far from my own experience:
If you feel like you are meant to write stories, but somehow never get around to actually doing it, if you find yourself constantly procrastinating and inventing excuses not to write, you probably need an additional boost of motivation. Joining a group of other people who are also aspiring writers can give you a sense of urgency that you are presently lacking. For example, if the group meets on Thursdays, and everyone has to bring their story on that day, you don’t want to be the only one without their homework. Creative writing workshops keep you accountable to your goals. Having a set deadline is the best way to keep writing even on the days when you don’t feel like it, or, as I like to say, to turn your Netflix evenings into your writing evenings. *sobbing quietly*
2. Constructive Criticism
Teachers of creative writing workshops are experts in the field, and possibly writers themselves. It is always a good thing to have someone other than your friends and family to read your stories, and give you their honest (and educated) opinion. (Let’s face it, your friends will always say it’s the best piece of fiction they have ever read, and the road to success is not paved with vanity). They might notice something that you missed, and sometimes it is the small details that really make or break the story. It’s great to have this opportunity to improve your writing skills, and become aware of some of the errors you are prone to making (such as using too much adjectives, for example). You should always keep in mind that the teacher’s goal is to help you, and not to criticize you. You share a common goal: to improve your writing.
3. Learning From the Mistakes of Others
The teacher is not the only one giving you feedback, at least that’s how my creative writing workshop works. We all have to listen carefully to the stories of others, and make notes about some things that they did well, and on others that could use some improvement. Clearly you shouldn’t take all the comments of your colleagues as absolute truths: in my creative writing group there is an old lady sensitive to descriptions of violence, and no matter how well written the story is, she dislikes it because it feels too graphic for her. However, if more that three people notice the same thing, it might be worthwhile to think about it and revise your story. Also, hearing the mistakes of others can help you avoid doing the same thing in your writing.
Creative writing workshops can be a great source of inspiration for your writing. The teacher is usually required to come up with a series of writing tasks or props, usually related to whatever the subject you are dealing with at the time (for example, writing a dialogue, coming up with a convincing character, etc). Sometimes, these tasks can really inspire you to write longer pieces of fiction than originally intended, and think of stories you would never have come up with otherwise. It is a great opportunity to really explore your writing style and to try a wide range of different subjects and narrators. Experimenting with different styles brings you closer to discovering your true writing voice.
Being able to hang out with other people who also write is an incredibly rewarding experience. Many writers have felt isolated or discouraged from writing because nobody took them seriously or they thought that everyone could do it (yeah, right). Creative writing workshops are full of people who agree that a) good writing is hard, b) that writing can be improved with practice and c) that writing good stories is worth the time spent on said practice. During your meetings, you are surrounded by people who get it: they know how difficult it can be, but also know that quitting is not an option. The members of your creative writing group can be your biggest cheerleaders, and also the people to celebrate your writing victories with.
This is a part of my group:
These are my experiences with creative writing groups. Which are yours?
Let me know in the comments!