Etiquette for Writers: the Writing Workshop

About a month ago, I wrote a post about how not to perform at an open mic night. Today, I wanted to expand on that, and talk about how to behave in a workshop.

Now before I start, I want to say that I love writing workshops. I’m part of 4 separate writing groups who meet in person, I’m in a couple of online writing communities, and I have two friends who I submit writing to on a weekly basis. Feedback workshops were a big part of my Masters, and I’ve benefited from them on a few writing residentials, too. I also happen to run writing workshops myself.

And yet…

If you regularly attend writing workshops, then you’ll probably instantly be able to think of a few examples of people who’ve rubbed you up the wrong way. This is to be expected. You’re putting a group of individuals in a room together, and basically asking them to dissect each other’s babies. It’s not surprising that people can feel a little raw, and tempers can flare.

Still, it needn’t turn into Hunger Games-style armageddon, or some sort of Mean Girls back-stabbing exercise in passive aggression. It’s basically all about consideration for others.

Katie Hale, Cumbrian writer / poet, runs creative writing poetry workshops for young people and children in schools and colleges


  • Say, ‘Here’s what I think of this poem,’ and then rip the piece of paper into tiny shreds.
  • Bring along your best poem, which you have no intention of changing. After all, you’re not there to actually workshop your poem, are you? You’re there to impress everyone with what an amazing poet you are. And people will be so bowled over by the fact they can’t find a single criticism to make about your writing, they’ll instantly want you to be their best writer-friend.
  • Listen to everyone’s feedback, then say, ‘Thanks, but I’m not going change it because I’ve already published it.’
  • Bring along that 20-page poem that’s been sitting in your desk drawer (unless you absolutely know that this is the kind of workshop that accepts longer pieces).
  • Use the phrase: ‘This poem’s shit.’
  • Aggressively defend your poem. Someone has taken the time to give you their considered opinion, so surely it’s only right that you batter them back down over it until they see it your way.
  • On the flip side: aggressively attack someone else’s poem. Sure, it’s their poem, but if they don’t agree with a piece of your advice, then you should keep repeating it (getting louder each time) until they do agree.
  • Take a phone call in the middle of the workshop.
  • While someone else is trying to make a point, have your own conversation – especially if that conversation is about how bad the poem is.
  • If it’s the kind of workshop with writing exercises, wait till the end to tell the workshop leader that you hate writing exercises because you find them prescriptive, and therefore haven’t written anything all workshop.
  • Tell everyone that you don’t really like workshopping your poems, because you don’t trust other people to understand them.

Got any more workshop horror stories? I’d love to hear them! Comments below….

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