Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is workshop for?

Here's my dirty little workshop secret: I sometimes workshop poems that may be (*gasp*) mediocre (well, maybe not mediocre--maybe only a little good). My theory is that if I only workshop my best poems, looking at those poems will be a waste of everybody's time, but if I workshop my almost-there poems most of those mediocre or maybe good poems will improve substantially.

It's also easier to make radical changes, I've found, to work that's either really fresh or been around long enough to know it needs improvement (and if it's been around that long, it's probably got more problems than I want to deal with).

This is a great strategy if my goal for workshop is to improve individual poems and identify early stumbling blocks common in my work.

Here's the philosophical conundrum: The best part of workshop is looking at all the awesome things everyone else is doing--so if everyone else is turning in awesome work that is doing awesome things, am I being selfish by not turning in as-awesome work that is not doing as-awesome things? Two caveats:

Sometimes it's boring to workshop already mostly finished really good work.

And sometimes the work we thought was really good and mostly finished it turns out might have still been really good, but still needs a lot of work. Sometimes workshopping really good poems can help you turn them amazing.

Maybe each workshop has different standards and expectations for the kind of work being brought in, but do y'all have any opinions in general on what the workshop is for?


  1. I thought that was point of workshop -- to "work" on things that well...need work! I love my classmates who meticulously bring in their best creative writing, but most times, it doesn't need assistance, but attention. Not to say there's no reason to bring in your best for workshop, since everyone may be working at different levels, but I want to take full advantage of my program. If I brought in work that I know is strong and needs minimal assistance, then I am not taking full advantage of my workshop group.

  2. I'd say I'm a 50/50 kind of workshopper. There are times when you need to bring in your best work--reassurance that you're doing what you need to be doing and it's awesome is useful! There are other times when there's that mediocre poem that I know COULD be good, but I don't know how to get it there.

  3. This is a good question, Josh. I often turn in new and/or "almost good" poems for workshop, as opposed to things I think are already pretty good. I agree with Raina that it kind of seems like the point of the workshop is to work on poems that need it. Besides, there's such a diverse group in my workshops that on the rare cases when I've brought something I felt was almost finished, I've still gotten really drastic suggestions from a couple people.

  4. I have an issue with most of my new poems that makes me amazed they even exist so I think they are the most wonderful things ever lol. So I use workshop for the reality check. It's helpful for me to know if something in my narrative is throwing the reader off. I just want to know if it makes sense to people most times when I turn things in.


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