In The MFA Handbook there is plenty of good advice on workshop. (If you haven’t read that bit yet, go right away to pages 113-117; you won’t regret it). However, there is a passage that strikes me as puzzling. Tom writes, “Never volunteer to go first. By that I mean, don’t turn your story/poem in to be workshopped first. Why not? Because the class is just getting to know each other, and it’s not a well-oiled machine yet. The first workshop is often, thought not always, a dry run for the rest of the semester. So, if you can, hold your work back till the third or fourth workshop” (p. 114).
On the face of it, this sounds like good advice. However, one could think of reasons why it might be good to go first: one’s work might receive feedback with a candor that could be hard to find later. That is to say, I gather that workshop may become a well-oiled machine, but it could also become an ambit where people are excessively careful about not hurting each other. In this case, the first workshop meeting is the best shot you have at getting honest feedback. (Of course, one would hope that this doesn’t happen; that is, that workshop doesn’t become a "defective machine," to continue with Tom’s comparison). Anyway, all this is just armchair speculation. Hence my question to seasoned MFAers: Do you agree with Tom’s advice? Yes? No? Why? Why not? Tom, would you like to jump in and expand on your point? Any other thoughts about workshopping are welcome.