Workshopping can be, hands down, the best thing ever. Notice I’ve gone for ‘can be’, there, rather than ‘is’. And I’ll tell you for why:
Getting your work read by other writers is always a privilege. There’s no arguing that one. People who write tend to read differently, and you need both sides of the coin. But if the person reading is scared of causing offence, you might as well not bother.
When we workshopped on the MA, at first we were all guilty of being too nice. We’d start our comments with positives. Sprinkle critique on the edges. Or just leave it written on the page, never spoken out loud. As time went on, we started delivering ‘sh*t sandwiches’, sometimes with compliment mayonnaise. Then the second year happened.
This weekend I met with two amazing writers for a Workshopping session. We’d all done the MA. We’d all learnt to take it on the chin. So, we were all brutal. We laughed at each other’s work. We mocked it. Scribbled lines out. Shook our heads and played Devil’s Advocate. It was wonderful. There’s nothing like a fellow writer pointing at your work and telling you he expected better, and what were you thinking? It sounds odd, to have your novel dragged through this painful process, but no matter how closely you read your own work, there’s no telling how it’s going to be received by a fresh pair of eyes.
So my final suggestions would be these: find people you can be honest with. Honest to the point of rudeness. If they can cope with you laughing at their sentence structure, you can cope with them sneering at and pointing out your repetition. Put the hours in. Spend a long time reading and ‘marking’ one another’s work. Spend longer in the workshop itself. A day, if you can manage it. Hours, at least. Get picky. You will reap what you sow. If you want in-depth critique, you’re going to have to dish it out. And lastly, don’t get offended. They’re not criticising you. Just your work. And yes, those are separate things!