View Full Version : Why do I get so nervous about workshop?

10-30-2015, 11:26 PM
I've been workshopping every semester for the last two-plus years. And every time I get very nervous and anxious about it to the point I almost feel sick over it. I know workshopping is designed to help the writer, and a lot of the time it does. I even think it helps me in the long run. But sitting quiet while you're writing is torn apart is hard for me. It's not that I don't want the feedback. I appreciate it very much and have learned a lot from the other students. I don't know if I am just doubting myself or what. My writing has improved greatly over the past few years, but there are a bunch of really great writers in my class. I'm not trying to compare myself to them. It's just that knowing how good they are seems to add some weight to their comments for me. It's just that some of them are soooooo good. I guess you could say I am a little intimidated by how good my classmates are and what they will think of me after I hand in my next piece. Why do I still feel this way? I have been in so many workshops, but I just can't seem to ever calm my nerves about it.

I did an online workshop that was not through school and I was fine with that. Maybe a little anxious, but nothing close to how I feel about the classroom workshop. And I'm in a writing group outside of school where we less formally discuss each others work, but it's usually done over wine and cheese, and feels more like I'm hanging out with friends. Don't get me wrong. My writers group is full of all serious writers and the online workshop was challenging in a good way. But the classroom... It's just really hard for me. I've been working on this piece for a few weeks. It should be ready to workshop, and it probably is, but that won't stop me from slaving over it even more right up until I have to hand in. And then there is the week when everyone is reading it which is when the self doubt is probably the strongest. And then it's time. The workshop. When it's over (even if everyone hates my story), I feel fine again. I guess the good news is I will graduate.

Have any of you experienced high anxiety over workshop? Any tips on how to calm myself down?

10-31-2015, 12:30 PM
I don't think that anyone can just make the anxiety go away. For me, it wasn't about lack of anxiety, but rather, how to manage that anxiety. I just got better at it over time. With school finished, I have been in the same writing group for over five years now. Still get anxiety. Still get nervous, but... I guess the desire for solid feedback outweighs that anxiety now.

Hang in there. Chances are everyone else in your workshop has some form or level of anxiety too. (Hug)

10-31-2015, 01:11 PM
The part of workshops I hated was having to talk in class, so I ended up looking forward to when it was my turn to be critiqued, as it was the only week I could stay quiet.
(That's no help to you though, unless you decide to try to develop a case of social anxiety that's worse than your critique anxiety.)

I would be willing to bet though that even the students you think are amazing are probably feeling just as insecure as you are when it's their turn. They just hide it well.

10-31-2015, 02:29 PM
I think a certain amount of anxiety in a workshopping situation is pretty natural, and you certainly won't be the only one in the class feeling that way (or the only one, period. I was a wreck even in online workshops from hundreds of miles away, so you're already dealing far better than I ever did! I'm even nervous posting here on AW!). Even when you know it's only going to help your writing, there's always going to be some trepidation about sharing it for the first time, subjecting it to judgement for the first time. If the nervousness actually kept you from participating at all, then that'd be different, but it sounds as though you're getting yourself through it even if it feels pretty rough at the time. That's a big deal; let that help your confidence. A lot of people wouldn't face something that made them feel uncomfortable, and you're doing it, so keep reminding yourself of that.

It sounds like the comparison and intimidation aspect of your class is one of the biggest factors? Maybe look into ways to beat the comparison trap? Do you know the writers that intimidate you outside of the class? Is it possible to get to know their processes, and in turn their own insecurities (because it's guaranteed they'll have some, along with plenty of writers they find intimidating)? It's possible that, if you're only seeing what they produce for the class, you're experiencing the whole 'comparing their highlights reel to your blooper tape' thing.

10-31-2015, 04:59 PM
Some random thoughts that may or may not help...

Fear and anxiety are (mostly) good things. They keep us focused, stop us from taking stupid risks, alert us to possible dangers. Fear can be a friend.

Putting your work up for critique can be one of the most painful and scary things that we ever do. We have slaved over a hot wordprocessor, sweated blood over just the right turn of phrase, even sketched out our Man Booker acceptance speech. And then the feedback cuts us to the quick. It bloody well hurts.

It hurts even more so when we know that the people giving the feedback are right. It hurts when they point out an obvious basic problem. And it hurts when they know something arcane and advanced that we have never heard of. We alternate between feelings of "d'oh!" and "huh?". And all of it makes us feel very small. In the words of the immortal TS, we just want to feel okay again.

And that can get us more and more afraid. As well as being afraid of the thing, we are now afraid of being afraid. The nasty little demon on our shoulder starts pouring vitriol in our ear - "you'll never be a writer". "They are much better than you." and "It's going to really hurt this time."

It doesn't help that some people aren't good at giving feedback. Some use it as an opportunity to show how clever they are. The can mean feedback which is delivered with a sneer as in "But this is so easy! Surely you know this?" This is feedback that doesn't build you up - instead it cuts you down to size.

That's the bad news. And that is also the end of the bad news, because it's only good from here on.

First, remember that the feedback you are given in a workshop isn't permanent. It it said and then quickly forgotten. Unless you have done something especially naughty (such as plagiarism) what is said in a workshop stays in the workshop. I know it doesn't feel like that to you. You think that their criticism is tattooed across your forehead. But it isn't. It will quickly be forgotten.

Then tell yourself that you are not the only one feeling nervous. Others will be too. They may be better at hiding it, but humans are quite good at hiding their feelings. I have seen research about self image which says that we usually rate our competitors more highly than we rate ourselves, and that they have the same feelings about us. People who are nervous about something like public speaking are very poor at estimating how nervous other people are.

And then tell yourself that no-one ever learned anything without making mistakes. If you want to learn how to be a champion ice skater you will have plenty of bruised butts. Those people giving feedback may be further ahead than you are, but they would still have had nervous times when they were starting out.

And if all else fails ...


Best of luck!

11-01-2015, 01:15 AM
Workshops where students critique others students work are the blind leading those who can't see. You shouldn't feel nervous because those doing the critiquing almost certainly don't know a banana boat from banana pudding, et alone what's wrong with your writing. Just ignore them.

Liosse de Velishaf
11-01-2015, 02:35 AM
It's natural to be anxious for many people in cases like this. There's not necessarily anything anyone can do to help you with that. I struggle with it even in online critique.

Just remind yourself that your career as a writer does not rest on this critique. Chances are, no one outside of your workshop or writer's group will ever see this piece. Even if it's total crap, none of these guys will remember it in a few years.

11-04-2015, 03:25 AM
Workshops where students critique others students work are the blind leading those who can't see.

Yeah. Look how such workshop experience ruined writers like John Irving, Joe Haldeman, Tracy Kidder . . .


12-26-2015, 10:52 PM
Maybe you are a writer and not a talker. And if they "rip apart" your work you're finding lousy workshops. Constructive criticism is the key and anything else is arrogant juvenile behavior. Unless you have a very, very thin skin.