Whether you’re working on fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or any other writing style, here are some focus points to use when reflecting on someone’s writing. When I was getting my master’s degree in poetry at Bennington College, I attended many workshops and developed this list of ideas to contribute conversationally when reviewing other writers. I also use them as a guide when editing my own work.
- Give a Compliment on your favorite aspect of the writing. Was there a line or theme that caught your eye? Was there a specific part you felt had a beautiful flow and why? I like to share compliments before I say anything else, which is common in workshops to build one another up and focus on what’s working well over any other response. Imagine you are the one sharing something you worked on whenever you give your reaction to another creative person.
- Admire a Writing Device from alliteration to metaphor to allegory, grounding your observation by connecting it to the overarching ideas in the writing. Some others you might mention are repetition, simile, imagery, and juxtaposition.
- Suggest a Place for Expansion if you felt like you loved a section and couldn’t get enough at any point while reading. If a passage or image impacted you and you think it would serve the piece of writing if it had a more dominant role, mention that. This might unlock an idea the writer can use in later revisions, or they might take that section out to create an entirely new piece.
- Examine the Title to see how well it connects to the overall piece and share a great idea if it comes to mind. Sometimes people throw a title on a piece just to have one and are grateful if someone has a suggestion.
- Add a Word that gives some panache to the piece. Is there a word you just learned that would fit in with the theme you’re workshopping, one from another language or one with a telling Latin root?
- Find Out More if you are confused about what you are reading, approaching your curiosity from the perspective of trying to understand and giving the benefit of the doubt to the writer, who might have made an innocent mistake.
- Connect the Piece to a literary figure, painting, or cultural moment. We are all intertwined in this circle of life and if the writer knows what their piece is reminiscent of, it can be instrumental in honing their specific creative perspective. When I am using this type of feedback for my own writing, I will do an internet search to make sure I am effectively connecting my ideas to our cultural consciousness.
- Thank the Writer if they shared writing that you enjoyed. Maybe it touched your heart, made you feel lighter, and/or freed you in some way.
- Suggest a Place to Publish if the writing feels polished and you happen to know of a good fit for the piece, for example BWW’s literary magazine Mud Season Review. Many people are workshopping their writing with publishing in mind and would welcome a specific place to send their work.
- Add to Someone Else’s Insight by agreeing or expanding on a comment. Did you have the same favorite part as someone else in the workshop? Knowing where people see the same thing and what clicks is beneficial to a writer, so they can gain an understanding of what resonates with others and use that to inform their future writing.
- Say What You Feel or what first came to your mind after you read/heard the piece. Spontaneous feedback and first impressions are part of the magic of a workshop because the writer gets to hear how they impacted others in person and in real time.
Using these 11 ways to engage with other writers and with your own writing, you will be able to get the most out of a workshop. Being a successful reviewer gives you the tools to constructively help and allows you to be a compassionate listener when it is your turn to receive feedback from a group.