It’s almost the end of the semester which means two things are happening: finals, and then, home for an ENTIRE month! Yay!!! I’m so excited to go back to New York and see my parents (just kidding, I’m going for my cats), but I’m also going to miss my friends, classes, and the university so much while I’m gone. But before I can start thinking about winter break and prepping for the next semester, I need to get through finals week just like everyone else.
As an English and creative writing major, most of my finals involve final portfolios in which I advise the writing I workshopped in my classes. Up until this year, I had never workshopped any of my pieces. Besides giving my friends and family snippets of my writing and scribbling bad poetry in my journals, I had never written anything with the intent of having it read aloud, discussed in front of me, and interpreted by my peers.
And upon first thought, this is terrifying.
I can think of very few people who want to have their work discussed in front of them. Especially, when you aren’t able to give any input on the piece. I know for me; this was one of my biggest fears. I remember thinking, what if someone says something mean and I can’t respond? What if they misinterpret what I say? What if I’m just plain bad and everyone judges me? A whirlwind of questions and concerns worked through my mind as the weeks led up to my first workshop.
But when it finally happened, I fell in love with the process.
When we workshop, we usually start with what we liked in the piece, the meaning behind it, and things we noticed that emphasized and made the writing stand out to us. Personally, one of my favorite parts of this round is also getting the chance to hear people’s interpretations and seeing how people saw my work in ways I never would have thought of. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear my classmates appreciate things like my descriptions, my word choice, and my plot devices. Overall, just having other people my age appreciating the craft and time it takes to write anything has always made me feel like a real author and made me really enjoy having my work discussed in a group setting.
And even when we get to the constructive criticism round, this enjoyment doesn’t end.
Because, what I failed to realize before I workshopped, people in my classes don’t want to pick up on my mistakes/failures to be mean or cruel or to prove they’re better writers. At the end of the day, everyone in the room is a writer, and we love watching one another succeed. In that moment, when we’re all sitting in a circle, it’s a small community of people who are trying to help you. This is more beneficial than praise and is what ultimately strengthens a piece to its fullest potential.
Another part of workshop that I adore is at the very end when I get my printed copies back, filled with annotations from my classmates. Yes, it’s annoying and sort of expensive to print out page after page and staple them together, but it’s worth it to see those genuine reactions and notes for my peers. Seeing people react in “real-time” to my writing is so fun and exciting, especially when they leave cute little notes, hearts, or highlighted quotes that were their favorites. It’s equally as fun doing this for your classmates when it’s their writing you’re looking at.
Plus, not only do you get handwritten annotations, but usually, everyone in the class will write personalized letters. In these letters, my classmates were able to air out all of their thoughts (especially ones they may not have been able to mention during class) so I could get the full picture of how my story affected them and where I could go from there. Getting this much feedback from so many different people is incredible and does mind-blowing things for a piece.
And then, once you have all of these edits and notes in the palms of your hands, you get to actually work on revising the piece. This is the best part; being able to see my writing change and warp into a better version of itself. Every time, I’m shocked by how much workshopping improves my story and makes me a better writer and listener because of it.
If you’re an English and creative writing major who wants their writing to improve drastically, I would definitely consider the University of Iowa and the classes where workshopping is available. These classes are fantastic, broad (you can take a writing class on pretty much anything! I’m currently taking one on writing romance fiction!), and overall, a lot of fun. The #1 public university for English and creative writing lives up to its name and I hope this post sparks your interest in this phenomenal program!