Over fifteen years ago, I began my first novel-length manuscript. As I write this post, my fourth is out in the world, auditioning for a wider audience.
Since that first story lured me into this crazy profession, I have chased words toward the paradise of perfection, always striving to lay down my vision of truth on the page. With each manuscript my writing grows, but still my words fall short and I realize I’m still learning. I will always be learning.
Over the years, I’ve participated in several workshops. Each has filled my writing stores with additional tools and left me inspired to keep going. In my first 8-week novel workshop at the Writers’ Center in Bethesda, Maryland, I was fortunate to study under Barbara Esstman, long-time instructor and author of two beautiful novels, The Other Anna and Night Ride Home. Before reading my pages aloud to a group of ten strangers, I suffered from an odd combination of nerves and shy confidence. I think back to that first workshop, at my naïveté. I had much to learn about my craft.
Since then, I moved to Texas, joined a critique group and discovered my amazing What Women Write comrades. Each of my writing partners has boosted me up, both in skill and in spirit. But I’m still chasing paradise, still seeking to improve.
I recently completed an online Advanced Novel Workshop at the Writers' Center with instructor Jenny Moore, a novelist and editor whose deep critique of my first 50 pages prepared me to tackle the rest of my manuscript for new submissions. In Jenny’s workshop, I was fortunate to meet insightful classmates who were generous with their time and detailed in their critiques.
Spending concentrated time in a room with other serious writers is ideal, but online workshops have something to offer, too.
- To get the most out of your workshop, engage online with the instructor and other participants. Study the instructor’s thoughts on craft, participate in the discussions, apply the exercises to your current project and maybe start something new.
- As with in-person critique, be polite but honest. Commenting in a virtual forum does not allow for tone or facial expression, so make sure your words reflect your intentions. As Jenny wrote, "Remember to approach each piece of work on its own terms. What do you think is possible for THIS work to be its best self?"
- Your unique perspective adds value. Don’t be intimidated because other participants are more insightful or more eloquent than you. You take your writing seriously or you wouldn’t be there—you read widely and recognize a good story when you see it.
- Show up at your computer and stick to the deadlines. We all want our work critiqued, but others rely on your feedback for theirs. If you’ve committed to eight weeks, participate in every one.
- Accept critique with humility, patience and appreciation. In an online workshop, you benefit from the privacy to process comments and suggestions. Don't sulk or become defensive--look for the gold in their advice.
- Appreciate various perspectives and advice from those writing in other genres.
- Study not only the critique of your own work,
but also that of your classmates.