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Emily Grosvenor: A leap forward in creativity

We picture the writer alone at the desk, perhaps banging a head against a keyboard, nothing on the page printed for the eventual book on the shelf. But this is not how most books or writing come to life. Every story that makes print has had countless eyes on it — a diversity of hands shaping, fine-tuning and crafting the living heck out of it to make it as good as possible. The writing workshop is a critical step on this path to publication.

Guest Writer

Guest writer Emily Grosvenor lives with her husband, Adam Diesburg, and two sons in McMinnville, where she writes for The Atlantic, AAA Via, Sunset, Portland Monthly and others.

Since the idea first took root at the University of Iowa in 1936, creative writing workshops have become the place to gain critical feedback for the creative writer. Writers have always shared and responded to work, but with the launch of the workshop format, they effectively crowd-sourced their feedback, finding that soothing balance between a room full of vastly differing opinions and a mutually beneficial setting of peers in this together.

Bringing your hard-won sentences and long-mulled-over characters and heart-churned words out into the world for others to pick apart? Does this sound worrisome?

It doesn’t have to be. Workshops are about giving and receiving collaborative criticism. They are a testing ground for material, the first indication to the writer of what kind of shape a piece is in. They are where creative works meet with the marketplace of ideas, where you can get real feedback in a mutually beneficial setting. They can help you develop the thick skin every writer needs before presenting his work in a world where it won’t be judged on the intention behind it. And the workshop can illustrate to you how unique each reader’s response is — how informed by their own experience, outlook, education, personality and taste.

These are all immediate advantages from the workshop experience, but I’d like to posit that being part of a workshop offers participants something more, more valuable than getting feedback on writing. Workshops provide:

* A community of writers. In all likelihood, you’ll take away a few friends from a workshop in addition to the lessons learned from critique.

* Inspiration for solitary work. Just try not to be inspired to create when you’re surrounded by creators.

* Deadlines. There’s no procrastinating allowed on creative projects when your critique is just around the corner!

* Vast creative leaps forward. Workshops help writers see their work with new eyes. Join one and you’ll move farther in your work than you could have by yourself!

Yamhill County residents now have a great opportunity to experience the writing workshop. The people behind the Terroir Creative Writing Festival, April 16 on the Chemeketa Campus in McMinnville, recently received a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation to launch a workshop series. Six professional writers are offering four-week courses in genres such as new media, nonfiction, fiction, flash fiction, poetry, memoir and personal essay throughout 2016.

Here’s what you can expect when you sign up for a workshop. While every instructor will shape a workshop to fit the requirements of the genre, the bare bones format remains the same: A group of writers of all levels and experiences committed to the craft gather to discuss each others’ work, generally in a shared genre such as fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.

First, the readers read the work, usually a short text. Then, the readers are invited to respond to the work, beginning with what they liked, or what they think is working. Praise is an important part of the process. It lets writers know that their intention is coming across, even when the text needs work (and they all need work).

Next, the readers respond constructively and respectfully to the text, being sure they are offering a critique of the work and not the writer. Questions often offer effective feedback.

This is a learned skill, by the way. No one is born being good at giving or accepting criticism. Part of the value in joining a workshop is learning how to really look at a text. So, the learning you take away from the process isn’t just feedback on your work, but a vast leap forward in how you engage with the written word.

Throughout this critique process, the writer stays silent. This is hard. You’ll want to jump out at every moment, defend your decisions, bridge that gap between your intentions and the successes of what you’ve produced. But that’s not how it works. Difficult as it may be, if you are having work critiqued, you must keep silent – and listen. And the advice you receive? It is like any advice in life. Take it or leave it.


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