On Workshopping

Roughly four years ago when I was a freshman in college, I submitted one of my poems to three different journals. This was the very first time I attempted to share my poetry. Armed with the hope that the editorial board would fall desperately in love with my work and immediately, breathlessly, and without pause accept the piece (ah, the naiveté!), I waited. Of course—you can see where this is heading, right?—during the following weeks, the rejection letters came in one by one by one. I pored over the poem and tried, over and over, to figure out why it had been rejected three times in a row*.

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And then I showed the poem to my friend, a fellow poet.

She saw the flaws in my work that I had been blind to. She made suggestions that I loved and eventually implemented. She taught me how important it was to workshop and discuss my art before professionally sending it out. One semester later, when I enrolled in my first college-level creative writing course, this importance was solidified. I’d had no idea the chances I’d been massacring by submitting unedited and essentially incomplete work to established and elite literary journals.

It is a common desire among artists across the board—authors, poets, painters, photographers, graphic designers, etc.—to strive for perfection within our chosen aesthetic. No, nothing is perfect. I believe that in art, perfection can be measured by how genuinely happy we are with what we produce, and I also think there is one way for us to get as close as we possibly can to such happiness: by sharing our work with like-minded people. At the end of the day, art is community. Join or put together a group of people who appreciate the kind of art you want to put out into the world and get together every so often to talk about what could make your work even better. Sit in a circle, get a bottle (or two, or three) of wine, and get to editing.

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And remember: don’t be afraid of criticism. One day, you’ll learn that embracing it was the best decision you ever made.

*Full disclosure: I looked back at the poem a few days ago, and I realized that in complete honesty, it is a truly terrible poem. I sincerely lament the fact that I was not a part of a workshop four years ago that might have had the courage to point its sheer awfulness out to me. This is exactly why we workshop, you guys.

Sydney Vance
Sydney Vance

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