5 Tips for Your First Writing Workshop

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Are you worried about your very first workshop in graduate school? Or maybe it’s the first day of your new writing group or fellowship program? Perhaps it’s with people you’ve never met before or it’s with friends, but they’ve never read your work. No matter what the situation is, allowing your work to be read and critiqued is intimidating!

As writers, we give our scripts our blood, sweat, tears. It’s revealing a little bit of our hearts, our souls. Allowing them to be seen and then picked apart is hard, but important work. If you don’t seek out that feedback, then it’s harder for your scripts and your writing to improve. So workshops are essential!

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was scared before my first graduate level workshop ! I think it’s natural to be nervous - I was filled with anxiety before each “first” workshop with a new group - but here are a few ways to prepare yourself for your first writing workshop.

1. Prepare your material!

Share your first workshop material with supportive friends. If you are writing a new script in your workshop, have two or three ideas ready and practice a short, verbal pitch. A verbal pitch for your workshop will vary, but usually consists of your script’s format (feature, 60 minute, or 30 minute), the main characters, comparison shows or movies (should be successful), and a one or two page synopsis. Practice your pitch a few times alone and with your friends! You don’t need to have your pitch memorized, only practice it a bit. Make sure to include your protagonist, their goal, and what is in your character’s way and any obstacles.

If you are workshopping a pre-existing script, then re-read it and check for any typo’s or quick line edits. Make that first table read a little easier for yourself! If you are unsure of what changes to make with plot, structure, or character arc, don’t make any drastic changes before your workshop (unless you have time). Allowing other people to read and give you notes can help you see what direction your script should go in.

2. Be prepared to nod and smile.

Unless you are being paid to write a script for someone else, you do not have to take every single note. The notes exist to make your project the best it can be! You will find quickly that notes will contradict one another - someone might like the slow tension while someone else may find it boring. It is impossible to take each note...

However!

You need to appreciate every note.

Some notes may not make any sense. Maybe you can tell the reader did not read thoroughly. You do not have to take the note, but you should at least look gracious, smile, and look like you’re writing the note down. Even if the note is so, so wrong and off the mark and makes your blood boil - learn how to say thanks, that their note is useful, etc.

It’s good practice for the future when dealing with development and executive producers - trust me. You can always go home and rant about it later.

3. Do not have an attitude.

Similar to the point above, try to be appreciative and humble. When giving feedback, be kind. You do not need to sugarcoat your notes, but you *also* don’t need to be a know it all asshole either. When receiving notes, don’t argue or become defensive.

I read once that the reader is always right. What does this mean? This does not mean you have to take every note. It means that your reader has that opinion for a reason. Is their note entirely off base and the reader thinks it is the 1950’s when your script really takes place in the 1920’s? Why does the reader think that? Maybe your intentions are correct, but the delivery is not as clear as it should be. Maybe there are some questions about world buildng? Add a short scene or even a piece of dialogue. Look for the note behind the note.

4. Be prepared to give good notes.

On the flip side, you will not only receive notes but be prepared to give notes. If you have the opportunity to review your peers’ material beforehand, be sure to do so! It’s much easier to have a few thoughts prepared ahead of time rather than making them up on the spot. Be sure to read it thoroughly and put some thought into your notes. When giving your notes, start off with a positive! You should always have something nice to say, whether it is an “ambitious idea” or “ premise you’ve never seen before”.

When giving notes, it is important to be objective and put your own personal preference aside. Try to work within the writer’s vision and give notes that they can use. Rather than pointing out what is wrong, be the person to offer suggestions. If there’s an overused trope, give some ideas to make it fresh or innovated. Workshops are for collaboration and not competition!

5. Remind yourself that you belong!

One final thing to do before your first workshop is to take a deep breath! Believe it or not, everyone else is probably just as nervous as you are! Imposter syndrome is real, especially with creative people, so be kind to yourself. If you are in that graduate level workshop, a new writing group, or fellowship program, you are there for a reason!

Joining a writing workshop for creative feedback is a great decision for your career. Your writing will improve tenfold from your peers' notes! You'll learn just as much from reading other writer's work and giving them notes. Just remember that you (and your script) were picked for a reason. It wasn’t some mistake or technical error. You are going to be fine!

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Kira
Kira writes stories about diverse young women who make their own way in the universe as troublemakers, crime-doers, and shit-stirrers. Within months of graduating from UCLA’s MFA Screenwriting program, Kira staffed on two web shows that will air in March 2020. She is a staff writer, winner of the Writer's Assistant Network Pilot Competition, and Women in Film scholar.

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