Friday Speak Out!: Writing with Others, guest post by Priscilla Whitley

Friday, March 01, 2013
The Writer’s Workshop I facilitate began in the twilight of late summer and concluded its season in the windy cold of winter. Six women, all with their own agendas, their own goals, came together each week—thoughtfully, and with extreme humor—lifting each other to places it had never occurred to them they would go. At least, not in the beginning . . .

Joining a workshop can offer a safe and supportive environment for your voice to be heard. Sharing your work with others in an enthusiastic, encouraging setting allows the freedom to explore your writing while improving your craft. No matter whether you’re an emerging writer or one who has been published, the right workshop will engage you in the thrill of expression.

Our group, now in its third year, started tentatively and with the upmost politeness, for critiquing is a learned art. They began with how a particular sentence invoked an image or “what an interesting story,”; we all like to hear that. But soon, very soon, I saw them yearning to yell out, “Tell me what you really think. Give it to me, I can take it.” First one, then another began to point out a confusion in the storyline, or how that snippet of dialogue didn’t move the plot along. They began commenting on having a stronger lead, heightening the arc, and were able to say, “Let’s hear how you really feel. I think you’re trying to be too nice.”

Sitting in my den with cups of tea, some curled up on the sofa, others cross-legged on the floor, we got to know each other through our writing in ways only true intimates can. We wrote of worries for our children, the confusions of growing older, and the hardships of childhood. The fiction sometimes took us to the dark place that was not outwardly visible on the author’s lovely face. Other times, a long-hidden secret was revealed in a hilarious or harrowing encounter. Gradually, we found our voices and discovered the benefits of critiquing, how helping others turned us into better writers.

Finding the right workshop can be like finding the right doctor. What’s good for one is not necessarily right for another. Prospective members should meet with the facilitator and hear them carefully explain their rules on both commenting and the responses to the comments. It’s important to keep in mind that in a Writer’s Workshop it’s up to the facilitator to keep the focus on the writing, not on the situation being written about. That belongs to the writer.

The individuality that expresses itself in writing is a constant amazement to me. Offered with kindness, a comment may only take a minute, even a few seconds, to impart a positive change. I saw it take place every night in our group and it always makes me want to come back for more.

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Priscilla Whitley has been a writer most of her life. She attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism as well as Fordham University where she majored in Creative Writing. She has been an on-going contributing feature writer for Hersam/Acorn Press. In 2012 her memoir, August on the Porch, placed first in the Westport CT Arts Center Memoir Contest. As facilitator of the Candlewood Writer’s Group, Priscilla runs workshops for writer’s in Fairfield County Connecticut. Her website is

 Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Unknown said...

I would imagine it would take a bit of time to build up the trust with other people to expose your work and know that their feedback will be from a true desire to see your work at its best.

Audrey said...

Thank you for sharing this. I hope to find a group like this some day!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Priscilla--You are so right. Critique groups grow and evolve. It takes people a while to warm up and feel safe enough to take a risk.

Thanks for this post. I belong to a group and really lucked out; it sounds like you did, too.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. And congrats on your memoir winning a contest--that has to be very exciting for you AND your workshop/critique partners!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sounds like your group has evolved into a place of honesty and intimacy, much like the natural progression of a supportive relationship. You are lucky, and sound like a wonderful facilitator. :)

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