What is a writing workshop?
Just like you'd go to a workshop to create or repair a product, writers go to literary workshops to get critiques and suggestions on their latest work.
I've taken multiple creative writing workshop courses while attending Purdue, and they've all basically worked the same way: I distribute my fiction or poetry piece to a group of beta readers (non-professional readers who search out plot, structure, or grammatical errors; in my case, other students in the class), and in a week, we meet again and they walk me through what they perceive as the successes and pitfalls of my manuscript.
Why is it important to workshop pieces?
"If beta readers are not professionals, and all they're doing is just giving their subjective opinion on your works, why does working with them matter at all?"
I'm glad you asked. When you attend workshops, you're most likely going to collaborate with other writers by gaining their feedback and giving feedback to them on the projects their working on. This is significant for two main reasons:
- You can learn something from other unique writing styles
- They represent your future readers
Expanding on Reason #1 - as writers, we develop our own writing style; this can include certain ways of styling sentence structures, punctuation, dialogue, and characterization. While it's important to cultivate and nurture your distinct way of writing, if you're not careful, it can become repetitive and predictable to the reader. By observing and practicing the styles of another (not outright copying, but practicing), you can vary the format of your writing in surprising and interesting ways.
Expanding on Reason #2 - Beta readers, essentially, represent the future readers of your work; they'll ask the questions your target readers may ask if something doesn't make sense, they'll give you a general sample of what readers may or may not like, and that can be extremely useful information to refer to during the revising and editing stages of writing. Although it's true that not all of your beta readers will agree on what's good and what's not, they can give you a general direction of where problems seem to stem from in your pieces.
All in all, workshops are a great way to learn and grow with a community of aspiring writers, gain connections, and are definitely worth looking into if you want to take your writing to the next level.
Keeping it local:
If you're a student at Purdue and are interested in taking an English course that explores workshop writing, I've added the link to all Purdue English courses here - check them out! The course descriptions should let you know if workshops will be incorporated into the curriculum. I'd personally suggest taking Introduction to Creative Writing if workshops, or even writing for an audience, is new to you.