Sunday, October 29, 2006

Workshop Manners

Great question from Pissed off in Portland...

Dear Tom,
I'm applying to mfa programs this winter, but my question is actually about a writing workshop that I'm in right now. It's a question about workshop etiquette.
The class I'm taking has about eight students in it and we've all payed a couple hundred dollars to take the class. I really love my teacher and most of my fellow students are great. BUT- there is one student who never comments on anyone else's work. I feel this is selfish and unfair, since he's expecting us to read and respond to his work.
I'm tempted to withhold my critique of his work, although I know in my heart this would be petty.
Is this attitude just something I'm going to have to get used to? What recourse do I have as a writer who wants to improve and as a paying student?
Thanks for the blog.


If someone doesn't write a letter to you, you don't write a letter to them. There's no gray area there. Don't waste your time with someone who is not serious about being a good peer and reader. Of course, you give everyone the benefit of the doubt until you see that they're being lame, but after that, write them off.

Yes, it's something you'll get used to, but to be honest: You hope in every workshop you'll find two to four people who really understand your work (and where you're trying to go with it, or, where perhaps you should go with it). Part of the process is identifying those people and then keeping those reading relationships up, for the remainder of the program, or for life.

Don't waste time being pissed, Portland (though you have a right to be). Look for the readers who are helpful, and then make sure that you're helpful to them. Rock on.

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