Rebekah Bergman’s wkshopWORKSHOP

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wkshopWORKSHOP
PRESCRIPTION INFORMATION—INDICATIONS & USAGE—
For a self-identified writer, WORKSHOP is approved to:

  • Gain feedback on drafts-in-progress (primary indication)
  • Regulate productivity over time by providing acute bouts of paralyzing insecurity coupled with acute boosts of confidence in one’s work
  • Reveal the broad spectrum of writing that can exist in the world

WORKSHOP may also be used to:

  • Provide a community of writers to support and promote one another (artistically, emotionally, etc)*

*Note: Effectiveness for this usage varies

—CONTRAINDICATIONS—
Do not take WORKSHOP if you are a writer with a(n):

  • Thin skin
  • Stubborn disposition
  • Existing community of supportive writers

—DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION—

WORKSHOP should be taken as a group of 7-12 self-identified writers under the guidance of a professional

(WORKSHOP leader) at maximum once per week. The duration of the WORKSHOP should not exceed 5 consecutive months. Breaks of 3+ weeks should be administered before beginning a new WORKSHOP*

*Note: Exceeding the recommended dosage of WORKSHOP may lead to writer-fatigue, reader-fatigue, and generalized anxiety

WARNINGS AND PRECAUTIONS—
WORKSHOP increases the risk of some serious conditions including writer’s block and hyper-judgmentalism. These can be career threatening or lead to permanent artistic disability.

  • The risk of writer’s block is highest among writers most eager to please everyone and those easily overwhelmed by criticism. Consult a WORKSHOP leader if you suffer from a writer’s block lasting more than 3 weeks.
  • Hyper-judgmentalism occurs in individuals who critique other writing more harshly than their own. Check your level of judgmentalism periodically while taking a WORKSHOP.

—ADVERSE REACTIONS—
The most frequent adverse reactions in clinical trials were: tenderness and/or heightened sensitivity about one’s drafts-in-progress (78%), loss of artistic voice and/or vision (65%), mood changes (55%), and nausea (40%)

WORKSHOP does not ensure publication, job placement, or financial success 

Follow-Up Visit
Bed-Stuy Office, Summer ’14

drDOCTOR: What were your symptoms before? How long have you been experiencing them? How did you treat them before?

Rebekah Bergman: In college I felt like I was pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. I was a creative writing major. I wrote a short story collection as my thesis.

After graduation I became a full-time middle school teacher. It was a position I was excited for and an experience I am very grateful to have had. Nonetheless I found myself suddenly without any time, energy, or space to continue writing. I’d say my most severe symptoms were a sense of isolation from the writing world and  a disconnection from the part of myself I considered a writer (or even an aspiring one).

One effective treatment for this came in the form of a mini-workshop for other teacher-writers started by a friend. Our group of five met monthly and the mini-workshops gave me back the community I had missed. But they also left me hungry for more—longer stretches of time to write, more frequent meetings and submission opportunities, more energy to put toward my own writing. I felt like I could be a teacher who wrote but that I couldn’t be a real writer until I continued my education and dedicated myself more fully to my craft.

Halfway through the MFA program I sometimes still feel disconnected from the part of myself I consider a “writer.” I still want more time, more opportunities, more energy. The symptoms aren’t quite gone but they are more manageable now that I’ve been taking workshops at the graduate-level.

dD: Is this medication swallowable or is it a chewable? If chewable, what’s the flavor like?

RB:Workshop can be a pill and it can be pretty difficult to swallow. When my own work is being shopped I usually enter the classroom hoping to get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. But as the process unfolds I find myself warming to it. During workshop the work must stand on its own as an entity separate from me. This allows me to see it more clearly for what it is. Such focused and full attention is rare. It is a gift and should be savored, mulled over, chewed, if you will.

In terms of flavor I usually leave workshop with a chalky taste coating the back of my throat. Whether that’s because I’ve been silent while a room full of writers picks apart my prose or because that is what creative potential and creative failure both taste like in their raw form. Hard to say.

dD:If you were to cocktail workshop with something else what might that be? Are there some supplements that accompany workshop in a pleasing way?

RB:Workshop, it should be noted, is an expensive treatment. Having a job while attending graduate school is tough but has been a reality for me as I think it is for most other students here in New York. I’ve found the key is to find a job that won’t drain all my time and energy. To that end, in the last ten months I’ve worked five different jobs.

Finding jobs, applying, and interviewing has been draining in and of itself. But through trial and error I have discovered some winning combinations. Babysitting, for instance, has been one of my favorites. It’s fun, easy, and has given me loads of material and inspiration to work with. In the fall I will be working two part-time positions at The New School as a teaching assistant and a research assistant—both roles, I hope, will help me engage with the writing community as more than just a student.

I have also been interning at Tin House. The editorial team there is amazing and the publication is one I greatly admire. Reading through the slush pile flexes my writing, reading, and editing muscles. This work energizes me to go back and look at my own work as if it were a submission. Which brings me to my main piece of advice to a workshop participant: find ways to connect with the literary community in a way that inspires you. Whatever you do as your day job, try to remind yourself why you write. It will help.

dD: How do you feel after your first year of treatment? Do you have any feelings about a two-year program and the dynamics between first and second years within the program?

RB:I have mixed feelings after finishing my first year. Of course I am proud of myself for recommitting to my passion. I also feel like I could be taking fuller advantage of these precious two years. I’ve already wasted a lot of time and could be more productive, take it more seriously, write and submit more work, etc etc… My feelings about a two-year program are less about social dynamics and more about brevity. Two years is not a whole lot of time. When I write my thesis this spring I will only have workshopped ten different stories. Despite this I try to remember the point of an MFA isn’t to write a novel in two years. I’m here to write, of course. And of course I could and should be writing more. But I’m also here to learn how to write and that’s something I think I’m doing okay at.

dD:Would you recommend this product to others? Who, or shall I say, whom?

RB: I would definitely recommend workshop to others, but not to everyone. There are lots of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to take a workshop. Time and money are typically the first. After that come an array of personal preferences that only an individual can answer. Do you enjoy being a student? Do you take criticism well? Do you revise a draft through several iterations before it feels “done”? Would you benefit from a network of fellow writers who are equipped to critique your work? If yes, then maybe a workshop is right for you.

​​dD: What do you consider a “draft in progress?” How deep into the drafting process should someone be when they bring work to be shopped?

RB: This is a great question and one it took me an entire year of graduate school to figure out. My first impulse was to submit a draft that I felt was more or less done in order, subconsciously I think, to prove myself worthy of being in the program. This proved frustrating as my “final” draft still received 45 minutes of constructive critical feedback and I felt like I had to go back to square one. Hoping to avoid this my second submission was a very early draft, almost unfinished really. I wasn’t sure what to do with it and neither was anyone else. Workshopping this draft was almost useless to me as everyone had their own idea for what I should do with the seed of a story I’d submitted and none of the ideas was my own.

It’s helpful to consider your own time spent with a piece. If you have a draft you finished the night before, wait on it. Maybe submit it for the following workshop. If you have something you’ve revised 15 times already and are content with, send it to a journal for publication. Don’t workshop it. Try to move a draft as far as you can on your own, come to workshop with questions about it, and be open to hearing what your classmates have to offer. Think of it like an audience test screening—seeing what works and what doesn’t so you can go back and rework it accordingly.

Rebekah Bergman writes fiction and poetry. She is a recent recipient of a fellowship from Tent and an upcoming resident at Art Farm in Marquette, Nebraska. Rebekah is pursuing an MFA in fiction at The Rebekah BergmanNew School and works as an editorial intern at Tin House. Her writing can be found in Spittoon, Banango Street, and Miniature Magazine. 

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