I’m part of a workshop! We meet semi-regularly on Saturdays at the Studio Square Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens.
When the Studio Square gang started meeting last fall, I was a little doubtful about the entire enterprise. I never took an creative writing classes in college, sparing myself from four years of continual workshops. My experiences with them in high school were generally positive — I learned quickly that there are a couple of people in the room you should pay attention to but most people are off base and you should ignore them.
My experiences in college were less good. I studied Film and Television at NYU and they were all screenwriting workshops. Two problems there. First, I was always one of the best writers in the room, so it wasn’t that productive. Second, screenwriting is frequently a pretty lowest-common-denominator kind of writing. I was getting bored with it even before I graduated from college, to be blunt, and so I was experimenting with the limits of what I could do and writing stuff no one was going to produce from a first year screenwriter. One of those scripts became the novel I’m working on now so it wasn’t a total loss, but I don’t feel that any suggestions I got in that workshop made a positive impact on the project.
(The rest of my workshop experience involved workshopping plays with a theater company that was going to perform them. That was a positive experience the vast majority of the time, but it wasn’t exactly the same — usually it was more about shaping the play for the needs of the director, actors and company as opposed to working on the strength of the script itself.)
When Studio Square began, I had been away from workshops for five years and was happy about it. I was convinced that workshops don’t help writers, that they were in fact a force for the homogenization of writing.
#1: The members are handpicked. This is key. The members of the Studio Square Workshop are: me, Teresa Jusino, Jean (an MFA candidate and aspiring artist), and Alex (a budding screenwriter and filmmaker, as well as a hilarious blogger). We’re all friends, we’re all serious about writing and we all know what we’re doing. Much better than a random group of people thrown together by a university.
#2: No time limit. We meet early on a Saturday afternoon to discuss a story or a 40-page chunk of a novel. And we discuss it until we’ve exhausted the topic. Sometimes we’re done by 4:00. Sometimes we have to get dinner because we’re still at it. However long it takes is how long it takes.
#3: Not too much structure. A lot of workshops have too many rules. We like it when the author doesn’t talk too much but they can chime in to direct the conversation where they need it to go or to clarify the comments they’re getting. And there’s none of that respecting-the-opinions-of-others crap. If one of the others says something you don’t agree with, let the debate commence!
#4: We meet in a bar. With beer. And chicken fingers. Enough said.
Our Fall 2010 season is opening tomorrow, the first three chapters of my novel are on the block and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Leave a comment! What’s your workshop experience?