Now, we’ve discussed it’s important to give considered feedback and to take feedback with humility we also need to acknowledge that this in not writing by committee. As I mentioned in my original workshop article you don’t have to go home and rewrite your piece to the workshop’s specification. The idea is that a workshop is a place to explore ideas, techniques and, naturally, to spot mistakes.
While a workshop may open new windows it is important to remember your work is still yours. This means that you could choose to completely ignore all the feedback, I would suggest this is unwise in most cases, or you could pick and choose which suggestions you take on board. If you rewrite you work point-by-point to the specification of the workshop it is unlikely you will be happy with it in the end. The main disadvantage of this is that it takes away your creativity and therefore your personal style and this style is important.
Think of your favourite writer and all the things you like about their books and how you might tell one of their books from another writer’s book. Try to imagine what a book would be like without those things you think make that writer distinctive, can you even imagine that? I’m not sure I can.
When working in a workshop you have to decide with suggestions, always remember we are dealing with suggestions not absolutes, work to make your story better. Perhaps someone suggests a way for a scene to play out you hadn’t considered, you have to decide whether you think this would improve your story or whether it would be off-key. You might try rewriting the scene the way they suggested and find it simply doesn’t work for the characters because, while other people may have ideas about your characters, you know them best. You know if Todd would storm out or leave quietly, you know if Rachel would take an insult or throw one back and you know if Jenny would sit primly or fiddle with the cutlery. It might take you a few attempts to discover that you know but there will be a point where it feels right for your characters.
People who read your work only have what you show them to allow them to interpret the character so it may simply be that you need to add a few subtle cues to inform them or that you need to take something out that doesn’t quite jive and has given them a different impression to the one you intended. That said, there is still the ambiguity of interpretation, sometimes a person may suggest something for a character that isn’t necessarily informed by your writing but how they want your character to react. This is not an invalid interpretation but it is worth considering why someone may have suggested something when editing you work after a workshop.
As the writer you are free to pick and choose what you take away from a workshop as much as people are allowed to make suggestions during it. It is vitally important to remember when workshopping that you are not constrained by what people say in a workshop. What is important is that you respect their right to make suggestions and they respect your right to choose whether you use them.
For more writing advice see my archive page.