Many writers swear by the value of workshopping. Some enjoy the social aspect, some need others to help them assess their own stories, and some find that casting an editorial eye upon the works of others helps them understand flaws of style or narrative, and spot them.
Others say writing is a solitary pursuit and that if you can’t figure out what’s wrong with your own work, nobody else is going to fix it for you. They point out you could run a re-named Hemingway story through most workshops and get all manner of fatuous complaints and suggestions about what the story clearly lacked.
I see something in both sides of the argument. Generally I’ve worked alone, and asked only my wife’s opinion between my stories’ many revisions. At times, though, I’ve sought the opinions of others. I attended a Writers Weekend up in Moclips, Washington last summer. In February I took part in an online “intensive workshop” through The Cult forums (offshoot of Chuck Palahniuk’s web site), and since the end of that intensive I’ve posted a few stories on the Cult forum member area for online critique, and critiqued many stories by other writers.
Maybe the biggest benefit has come from reading the works of others and helping to pinpoint flaws. I feel this has really sharpened my editorial eye, which helps me better assess my own work. If I read a story with a clear-cut need for better-defined motivation for the protagonist and express this to the writer, I find that afterward I’m better able to spot similar flaws in my own stories.
The most useful thing, though, is using other writers as a barometer to judge my own writing. It’s pretty hard to gauge one’s own progress by a string of form rejections. The rejections of a clueless unskilled beginning look much the same as the rejections of someone who’s almost there, just one lucky “right place, right time” submission away from getting into print.
The encouragement and validation of my fellow writers, particularly those whose work I respect, has been a big boost to my confidence. I suppose once I’m past the publication barrier, this aspect will be less valuable. I’ll have the ultimate validation of editors, in that they’ve selected my story to publish. For now, though, this is the aspect of workshopping I’ve found most useful.