SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Random Musings > Workshopping
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1991 and 1994 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
I keep hearing wannabe writers who belong to workshops talking
about the long-term nature of the workshopping process. Indeed,
I overheard one aspirant recently saying "we never graduate . . .
once a workshopper, always a workshopper."
I'd like to politely offer a word of advice: The stated goal of
most workshops consisting of unpublished writers is for the
members to become published, professional writers. Don't lose
sight of that. I've seen too many workshops over the years
become self-perpetuating, with the goal switching (often subtly
and without anyone noticing it) from writing publishable work to
sustaining the workshopping process.
One workshop I'm familiar with has been operating for about five
years now. Everyone who was in it seemed to learn a lot, but the
only person from that group to end up qualifying for active
membership in SFWA was the one who knew when it was time to quit
the workshop. He left almost three years ago, and has sold over
sixty stories and a novel in the interim; the others, although
all talented, seem locked in workshop limbo. Oh, now and then,
one of them will make the occasional small-press sale, but that's
Another example: In one of the last issues of QUANTUM Science
Fiction and Fantasy Review, D. Alexander Smith went on about the
Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop, founded in 1982, citing as
proof of its success that, in the ensuing eleven years, "at
least thirteen published novels and over a hundred short stories
have come from CSFW's current and past members."
Sounds great . . . until you think about it. Nowhere does Smith
tell us how many members his workshop has, but let's say it's ten
(certainly that's the right order of magnitude). That means that
its members are, on average, each selling approximately one short
story per year, plus one member per year is managing to sell a
novel (while the other nine or so are not). In other words,
they're no more productive (and, indeed, arguably a fair bit
less productive) than any random grouping of ten writers you're
likely to assemble.
If workshopping helps people get started, wonderful. But please,
don't lose sight of the real goal. Workshopping is a means to an
end, not an end in and of itself. At some point, it will be
time to move on.
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