"Why Do I Feel So Bad After Workshopping?"

"Bad" during workshopping is a spectrum. And sometimes bad is good.

Dear Milo,

I’ve had some workshops this year. These were my first ones and I was nervous because I never shared my writing before. They went well (nobody was mean to me and I don’t think they said problematic things), but I cried after each time when I got home. Nobody knows and I’m embarrassed I reacted this hard. Is this normal or am I oversensitive? Thank you for reading my question.


Workshop Crier

Somerville, MA

Dear Workshop Crier,

I want to start this one off encouraging all of us to normalize the concept of crying. Crying is a way to express an emotion. Some folks cry as a form of expression, others don’t; and others would like to, but feel like they can’t or shouldn’t. But crying is normal and isn’t an indicator of weakness, oversensitivity, or overreacting to a situation. (Even if someone bursts into tears over the seemingly smallest thing, that usually means something else is going on in their life. But I digress.) So if your instinct is to cry, my friend, then go ahead and cry.

That said, I’m sorry to hear you feel bad after workshop, but I’m glad it’s not because the workshops were bad experiences within themselves. That’s a whole other problem and can devastate a writer off their craft for years, sometimes forever.

Workshop badness is a spectrum. Based on what you’ve provided here, your situation sounds not only normal, but expected. And not just expected, but good. If a writer (especially a newer writer) came out of workshops feeling wholly good about themselves, that could be a problem.

I’m not saying that workshops should be intentionally difficult or cruel or hard-hitting. (People often misunderstand this to be the true nature of a workshop, which causes the damage mentioned above and with no benefit for the writer.) Rather, workshops are inherently vulnerable spaces. This is because a person is sharing their work. Genuinely sharing it. And most writers, no matter what they write about, are deeply connected to what they create. After all, artwork comes from within. We create it from nothing but our own synapses, mold it into a physical form, and hold out this miracle to other people so they can scrutinize it into even more of a miracle.

The problem here is, especially for newer writers (or writers otherwise new to workshopping), it can be a learning process to detangle one’s work from one’s self-worth. It makes sense. How can we not take it personally when an extension of ourselves is critiqued? But critiquing your work doesn’t mean people are critiquing you, though it’s easy to feel that way. (Okay, some people do this, but those are bad workshoppers. See above.)