When I look back over all my years of formal education, from preschool through college, only a few classes stand out as truly educational in a life-changing way.
In sixth grade, we did a section on space, which fascinated me. I retained a lot of what I learned. Later, I took astronomy and learned even more about the universe. A class on women writers exposed me to a whole world of literature I didn’t know existed. And two writing workshops (poetry and creative writing) put me on the path to becoming a professional writer.
The main difference between a regular class and a workshop is that a workshop is interactive. You work together with your fellow students, critiquing each other’s work, asking questions, and exchanging insights. Whatever you can learn from a single instructor is infinitely multiplied by all the knowledge and wisdom that you gain by sharing ideas with your peers.
What You Can Learn from a Creative Writing Workshop
I only took one creative writing workshop, and I’m sure they are not all created equally. You can usually sit in on the first couple of sessions to see if a class or workshop is right for you before you commit. If you find a good workshop, you’ll reap the benefits:
1. Discover yourself and your path. One day, while sitting in creative writing workshop, I was overcome by the strangest sensation. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was the moment I knew without a doubt that I would be a writer.
2. Find out what your writing strengths are. The best part about receiving critiques from your peers is that they tell you what you’re doing right, which is reassuring. When you know that your writing skills have a good foundation, it’s easier to accept that you still have work to do.
3. Accept the weaknesses in your writing. No matter how good your writing is right now, there are things you can do to improve it. When a room full of 20 people tell you that certain elements in your prose need touching up or that you need to hit the grammar books, all you can do is accept it and dig your heels in.
4. Learn to handle critiques of your work. The first few critiques might be a bit rough, but once you see how all the suggestions make your writing so much better, you’ll start looking forward to them. You’ll learn how to separate yourself from your work and you’ll be able to not only handle but actually embrace (and look forward to) critiques. This will also prepare you for the real-world critics and reviewers.
5. Help others improve their work. When other writers put your suggestions into action, or express appreciation for your ideas and suggestions, and tell you that your feedback helped them make their writing better, it feels good, especially when the entire arrangement is reciprocal.
6. Meet people who share your passion. There’s nothing like sitting in a room surrounded by people who are just as excited about writing as you are. It’s not only inspiring, it’s also comforting. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, some of whom may become lifelong friends, writing partners, or your future writers’ group.
7. Improve your writing. This, of course, is the main reason most people take a creative writing class or workshop. The ultimate goal is to become a better writer, and a workshop will definitely do the trick. You’ll also put a lot more effort into everything you write because you know it will be scrutinized, and this builds excellent writing habits.
8. Adopt new writing techniques. Between the instructor and your peers, you’ll discover all kinds of interesting new writing tools and techniques, often simply through the course of discussion as well as through observing everyone’s work.
9. Expand your repertoire. When you throw yourself in with a larger group of writers, you’ll be exposed to all kinds of writing styles and genres. In one creative writing workshop, you’ll find poets, horror writers, literary fiction writers, memoirists, and more. You’ll be forced to read widely and develop a critical eye for a wide variety of literature.
10. Gain experience and get a lot of creative writing practice. This is one of the most valuable benefits of a workshop. When writers work on their own, they tend to procrastinate, put things off, and generally don’t finish most of the projects they start. But in a workshop, you’re forced to get it done. This gives you lots of great experience and practice, and it also builds good writing habits.
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