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Regular news and insight from our many poets, writers, educators and facilitators

23 November 2021

Posted by Beth McKeeman

First Ever Workshop

Number – 7

Hands up who’s ever done a workshop before?

A completely new experience for our Crows Nest Writers – handing your work over to your peers for feedback and giving feedback in turn. It can be a daunting prospect, and we weren’t just going to throw them in blind.

It’s always good to start off in the creative mindset, so as usual we had our weekly check in – this time, our weeks as colours or paint chart colours. Ranging from plain and a colour that should be cream but when you use it it actually comes out swamp green, all the way to arrays of paint with hints of purple, or mixtures gone wrong - there was a bit of everything. Globbule red, lurid frosted pink, bright yellow that fades to white and burnt text book, I hadn’t ever stopped to think about how complex colours could be before.

Antosh then brought up his favourite app, Padlet, in order for us to sort through our trepidations and to really figure out what workshopping is.
The worry surrounding picking a piece and having people like it was the first to come up. From the other side, it’s also daunting to give feedback – what if you can’t think of anything? What if you’re too mean? What if you disagree with what someone else said?

The common workshop tool of the ‘feedback sandwich’ can help with this. The idea is that the bread is the compliments, the things you liked about a piece, however broad or however specific. Anything that springs to mind for you the reader as something you enjoyed. Then the filling is the constructive feedback. The key here is the constructive part – building something up instead of tearing it down. It can be helpful to phrase your thoughts as feelings and questions, ‘I just felt this line didn’t work for me’, ‘what was your intention behind this?’ ‘have you considered this?’.
With the sandwich you start positive, go into feedback, then end with positive once more.

Another useful thing to do for workshops is to decide what you want to get out of them. This can be on an individual basis, with the writer setting questions alongside their piece, perhaps asking people to look at whether a particular aspect of the scene works, or to focus on dialogue or help with where it’s going – I sometimes ask what people think happens next if I’ve put a particular bit of foreshadowing in that I want tested. Deciding on what to get out of a workshop can also be done as a whole workshop group, to set the goals of your group, and should be done with each new workshop group you set out with, because every group is different and will always make you feel a little new to workshopping in some way.

Some groups might have restrictions on what type of thing they workshop - poetry, script, prose, children’s, maybe the intent is to look at a novel in development, and thus see the piece progressing and never anything outside that project – some will want more praise, some may want to ignore the sandwich and launch into the feedback, especially if strapped for time. The longer you’re with a group, the more comfortable you get and the more shorthands you may develop too.

For us though, our goal is to be given a God Complex, to feel like we’ve done good, though of course we still want to know how we can improve.

Things we could give feedback on are pacing, POV and whether it matches and makes sense, flow and word order, setting (is it too much, too little), the aims, mood and emotion being consistent or built up well and general accuracy (always point out that the Eiffel Tower is not in London). We can also highlight grammar, especially if it is a consistent error, however unless it is a near end-point draft that is less important because there could be a lot more drafts ahead in which it all would get jumbled up, deleted, reworded etc. anyway.

So congratulations Crows Nest Writers on your first ever workshop, here’s to many more, and lots of validation!

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