Alana Saltz reports:
"Once you get your new writers’ workshop off the ground, there are many factors that will go into making it successful, productive, and enjoyable for you and your members. You want to create a fun, safe space for writers to share their work that will also accommodate critique and constructive feedback...Establish workshop guidelines: This is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure that your writers’ workshop runs smoothly. It’s your responsibility as the workshop leader to set the tone for your group and to decide how it will run...The guidelines don’t have to be very long or involved. If you’re running a smaller weekly group, be sure to establish any rules you want to have about attendance. Do you want people to contact you when they won’t make it, or is it a more casual, drop-in kind of workshop where no notice is necessary? If you’re using meetup.com, mention any rules you have about RSVPing on the site. You’ll also want to discuss how you want work to be distributed. Will members bring work in and have it read at the meeting, or will work be brought in or emailed out in advance? Practical stuff like that...Decide how critique will be conducted: There are many ways you can conduct the critique portion of your workshop. I highly recommend having an initial discussion about the piece you are critiquing without the author’s input. You ask the author not to talk, comment, or even answer questions during this initial discussion...When a writer’s work is being read outside of the workshop, they won’t be there to give explanations or excuses to their readers. The workshop is a way for them to be a fly on the wall, to see how their work is being read organically. Once the members all make their comments and observations, the author is allowed to join the conversation to ask and answer any questions that came up during the critique. I also recommend structuring the critique sessions in the following way: First, ask the group what they thought worked in the poem/story. Starting with the positive aspects of the work makes the less positive critique easier to handle. After all of the members have had a chance to talk about the strengths of the piece, ask what they thought needed work or attention. Both you and your members should try to avoid using the words 'like' and 'dislike.' Opinions are valid, but should be given carefully, as they are opinions and not objective feedback on the piece. If a member says they 'like' or 'dislike' something in a piece, ask for them to be more specific. Why specifically did they like it or not like it? What about it worked for them or wasn’t working for them? That kind of feedback is much more helpful than someone just saying that they liked or didn’t like something in the piece...To read out loud or not to read out loud? My recommendation – read poetry out loud, but not prose...I think reading prose out loud takes a great deal of time and most likely isn’t the format that readers will be approaching the piece. If you choose to have prose read out loud, be sure to also have the member provide paper copies for the other members to follow along with. That way they can spot any grammatical or structural errors...[H]ave some time before the meeting starts to chat, catch up, and wait for people to arrive (about 20-30 minutes). Then, conduct your focused critique session...If you find your group getting off track, gently steer them back to the piece. Once the critique session is finished, people have the choice to stay and socialize more, or leave if they have other obligations."
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