Frequently Asked Questions
About our Writer's Workshop
1. How do I get started in the Writer's Workshop?
2. How do I write a Helpful Review?
3. How does workshop reviewing differ from other reviews I write?
4. How do I submit my own work?
5. What's with the points feature?
6. What do I do about Ratings of "Not Helpful"?
7. What do I do about Unhelpful Reviews?
8. What is an Author's Agenda?
9. What is the difference between "Chuckshop" and "Self-Assignment?"
10. Where can I find Chuck's essays?
11. Should I copyright my work before I submit it? How safe is this?
12. Does putting your work in an online workshop count as "published?"
The Workshop FAQ is currently Under Construction
Please send any pressing questions not covered here to workshop at chuckpalahniuk dot net.
- How do I get started in the Writer's Workshop?
First you click the Writer's Workshop from this link or top-right in our toolbar. You'll be prompted to upgrade to Premium Membership, if you haven't . Then you'll be taken to your Writer's Desk, a dynamic dashboard page just for you that will soon be populated with links to your stories and reviews. Next, look at some of the latest submissions and begin writing reviews. In this way, you earn credit for your own submissions and build trust with others in a network of important feedback. You'll be rated on the quality of your reviews, so be honest, but be helpful.
- How do I write a Helpful Review?
The main thing is to recognize this environment as a workshop. You'll be reviewing unpublished, unfinished work. Even a story that looks or feels complete and has beginning, middle, and end may still be an early draft and a long way from finished. Furthermore, the primary audience for your review is the author herself--or himself--someone who wants a few cheers for the parts that are good, encouragement to keep on going, and a few helpful tips for what could make the work even stronger. Chances are, the person whose work you're reviewing didn't submit the story for flaming, derision, or discouragement. There's also a good chance that this same person will review your work, when you put it out there. Don't be phony, but be polite. Balance negative commentary with positives and write your review with the intent of Helpfulness. Also, do your best to address anything listed in your fellow author's written agenda for the submission under review.
- How does workshop reviewing differ from other reviews I write?
It's fine if you write reviews of finished, professional work for a newspaper or website. Maybe you're practiced at that sort of reviewing and pride yourself as a critic. Perhaps you can be scathing, at times, and your acumen for elucidating the bad qualities of a lousy book or a poorly-made film is second to none... breathtaking. The art of the scholarly or pop-savvy harangue is your fort and your forte. Well, bravo for you, but hang that stuff up at the door, please. Or at least, balance it. Full-tilt, capital-C, "look-how-smart-I-am" Criticism has it's place, but not here. Again, a workshop is for works-in-progress, not for finished products. So we have a slightly different standard. Works-in-progress can be incredibly raw, plagued with serious problems, and still hold the potential for greatness. We aren't here to snuff out that greatness. But I'm not telling you to lie, water-down your responses, or act only like some sort of cheerleader. I'm only asking you to write reviews with your audience in mind. In a workshop setting, the primary audience for your review is the creator of the work--the parent of a struggling, half-born child--and not a third-party audience looking for a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down rating--your clever tip on whether to spend the fifteen bucks on a published book or buy two movie tickets instead. As in the answer to the previous question, don't be phony, but be sensitive. Write the review with your audience in mind. A good writer--like a good actor, singer or a good public speaker--always serves the work first, and the audience second. But it's a very close second. As the writer, even of a review, you should deliver your written work effectively to a particular audience or with a particular audience in mind. And the primary audience for your review in a workshop setting is the creator of the work, not the other participants, and not the potential consumer of the finished product. Keep that distinction in mind and you should do fine. It's been my experience that the best reviewers in our workshop consistently get Helpful ratings, even and especially when they're being extremely tough. Be tough on the work. But be kind to the author.
- How do I submit my work?
Once you're signed in as a Premium Member, and you've gotten the hang of it by writing a few reviews, submitting your own work is only a click away. You'll select the Add a Workshop Submission link, the very first link in your Writer's Workshop Menu on the right side of your Desk. Enter your title, choose your story type and genre choices, and browse for the file where your story is saved. It's best to have it saved as a PDF for this purpose, but several other file types will work as well. Make sure to fill in your Synopsis or Author's Agenda space and to check whether you would like this story considered for the Anthology. Then click 'Submit' and you story will go live within seconds.
- What's with the points feature?
When you first visit your Desk you'll see that your points are at zero. You earn points by writing reviews for others. Both the quantity and the quality of your reviews count, so take your time with each. When you reach the minimum number of points required to make a submission, your points box will turn from pink to green, giving you the greenlight to submit your own work. If you're very early to the shop and find few items to review and earn points on, there's a good chance you've entered during our grace period, in which case you may submit a story without having earned reviewing points first. Beyond that, our starting value, subject to change, is 15 points earned to make one submission.
- What do I do about Ratings of "Not Helpful"?
If the reviews you write are getting rated as "Not Helpful" by your peers, it's going to hurt your spending points for making submissions. Turn up the quality of your game a bit. Take more time with each review. Growing bitter or angry will only work against you. Instead, get a strategy for more effective reviewing in place. Print the stories for review and begin with margin notes on paper. Then go back to the computer with a stronger starting point for your commentary. Make sure to state the positive as well as the negative, and do both diplomatically, in respectful language, and with a real view for the development of the work. Take time to address the strength of individual components, like character, theme, dialogue, and setting. If you apply a star rating to these components, then you should be able to spare a few words on each, as well. A well-crafted 3,000 word story deserves a well-crafted review of at least 100-150 words, bare minimum. A well-crafted 300-500 word review would not be out of order. What is inadequate? A 70-word quick hit that doesn't show much focus and looks like you just wanted a reviewing credit. Also, avoid a spaghetti-mess of unedited ramblings, of any length, comprised mostly of things to get off your chest and only tangentially referencing the story. Go to your blog for that. But relax. Unless you're deliberately malicious in your reviews, or you're doing quick cut-and-paste crap just to make way for your own submissions, then it's highly unlikely that your ratings of "Not Helpful" will become weighted enough to draw an administrative warning. We do suspend and even ban users who persistently abuse the system or damage the spirit of the workshop, but not without a warning. One or two ratings of 'Not Helpful' from possibly over-sensitve writers will not sink your battleship. Just up your game and keep going.
- What do I do about Unhelpful Reviews?
Even reveiwers with the best of intentions will not always be able to deliver a review that is helpful to you. And a review that stings a little, right at first, might prove helpful to you if you wait and read it at a later time, when you're less attached to that first draft. Even if it never proves helpful, that review may represent an honest attempt to help you out. As the author, you must select which feedback you will use to make your work stronger, and which of it you can safely ignore. Your right to veto any advice you receive--hopefully, after carefully considering it, and not rashly--persists well beyond the peer review function of a workshop and remains with you even when you're working with professional editors. Be confident in that right and be open to feedback. The willingness to see your work through another person's eyes is vital to your growth. If you can't see much benefit in a particular review, but it looks like an honest attempt, you might consider leaving that review unrated for the time being, along with a brief note that still says 'Thanks.' Maybe the reviewer is new to all this business and needs a little boost of confidence and time to get his or her sea legs. A kind word from you might get that person reviewing more confidently, more carefully, and more effectively. If a not-so-helpful review seems careless, hasty, or thoughtless, and not simply the work of an inexperienced but well-intended reviewer, then you're certainly welcome to use the "Not Helpful" rating as a way to guide that reviewer onto a better path. A preponderance of "Not Helpful" ratings will draw administrative action. Beyond that, any abuse, hate-speech, spam, or blatant cut-and-paste crappola in reviews should be reported as "abuse" for immediate action. You'll see a button for that at the bottom of each review post.
- What is an Author's Agenda?
In the synopsis space with each new submission, you have the option of writing a synopsis, an agenda, or both. We recommend both. A synopsis is just a brief and enticing overview of your story that doesn't give too much a way, but may draw in a reader's interest. An Author's Agenda is a Workshop-specific tool. It is simply a brief summary of the kind of feedback you would like to receive. For example, if you're concerned with how well you've developed your lead character, you can ask for specific feedback on that issue. If you would like to know if any specific moments in the story make a reader laugh, you could ask for them to jot notes at any laugh moments and let you know where they are. If you've done your best to incorporate Chuck's lessons from three different essays, then you could mention it in your agenda and ask for feedback on how well you've achieved those specific aims. It's best if an Autnor's Agenda sounds like a polite request and doesn't sound too demanding. It would be a mistake to make a long checklist for every reader to follow and then punish with ratings of "Not Helpful" if readers don't address every single item on your list. Pleae be appreciatice that you're getting read, at all. But don't be mousy about the agenda part. Ask nicely for exactly what you want to know about the reader's experience of your story. Then be gentle about it if not all readers follow your agenda perfectly.
- What is the difference between "Chuckshop" and "Self-Assignment?"
When we first started receiving Lessons from Chuck, his essays, we built, in effect, an independent second workshop just for people to submit assignments based on Chuck's lessons. The "Lessons from Chuck" forum is the place to discuss these assignments, but that aspect of the shop took on the nickname "chuckshop," simply to distinguish it from our original Cult Workshop which is still open to freeform submissions, poetry, multiple genres, and all sorts of differing agendas for feedback. This original shop took on the name "Self-Assignment" to underscore that it's a place for work driven on your own agenda, with or without incorporating distinctions from Chuck's essays. In those early days, the two shops functioned independently of each other, and credit earned toward making a submission in one side didn't apply to the other side of the shop. Everything was a little too compartmenatlized, good for organization but bad for the integration and comradeship of our writing community. So the difference now is only one of emphasis--a way of distinguishing the focus of your work and your personal agenda. When making a submission, you'll select "chuckshop" and then highlight a specific lesson if you're working to fulfill that assignment. Or you'll simply select "Prose" if you're writing a story based entirely on your own agenda, or incorporating several of Chuck's distinctions instead of only one. The Worskhop is now functionally integrated and the points you earn from reviewing are applicable to making any sort of submission you want.
- Where can I find Chuck's essays?
Well, this one is pretty easy. From any page within the Workshop, you just view The Writers Workshop Menu on the right. About midway down is a link that says: Chuck's Essays. You can click to it from the link in this answer, or you can find it in that Menu, almost directly across from where this quesiton first occurs in the inital listing. Either link will open up to a full listing of Chuck's essays, complete with short synopses.
- Should I copyright my work? How safe is this?
It never hurts to pursue your own due diligence in such matters. You can visit the U.S. Copyright Office online and register the copyright on a single creative work for about 35 dollars. Under current U.S. copyright law, your work is legally copyrighted to you as fast as you set it down in a fixed form and put your name on it; however, the small fee and paperwork invovled in registering your copyright might provide added piece of mind and also added leverage in any sort of infringement claim. if you're motivated to pursue maximum protection of your creative properties, then registration is certainly something to consider. Screenwriters often register an origianl script with the Writers Guild of America, as well. However, it isn't the norm to pursue copyright on a short story or even a novel prior to publication. A reputable publisher will register copyright in your name after the deal is made for a book, and has far too much to lose in reputation alone to even consider any kind of theft. Short stories and poems generally aren't lucrative enough to motivate theft. They do terrible in a pawn shop. The joy is in having your own work out there, your name on it. That victory is pretty hollow if based on stolen work. Not to mention the lifetime of smearing backlash that will come when such a theft is found out. It's just too much risk and too little to gain. This is not to say that theft of creative properties never happens, just that it is much more rare than many beginning writers imagine. It is also worth noting that an idea cannot be copyrighted. If the idea is a full-fledged design for a tangible and innovative product, an invention, then it might be protectable under patent law, but intangible ideas like those that drive stories cannot be legally protected except by writing them down, recording them to audio or video technologies, or otherwise setting your creative work into a fixed form. The idea cannot be copyright protected, only the precise execution of that idea can be. A story that's just in your head isn't real yet until you put it in a fixed form. Quick ideas for stories, or "loglines" in movie lingo, all that "high concept" stuff, it's crappola until you do something with it. The safety lies in getting your work out into the world. As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it's safer in the world than locked up in your head. But still, do your own due diligence and pursue whatever degree of protection you deem appropriate. We consider our community a safe place for your work and we believe that most of your fellows are too concerned with their own wild self-expression to be particularly invested in ripping from yours--but life offers very few guarantees amid many opportunities. Consider this decision your own ultimate responsibility.
- Does putting your work in an online workshop count as "published?"
In the broadest sense, "published" just means made public. By pure linguistics, the poster you placed of your missing cat on twelve different phone polls or bulletin boards around your town is something that you've published. So is the story you made twelve copies of for your creative writing class in school. Therefore, we cannot say with absolute assurance that the "non-published" status we claim for our workhsop submissions is uncontestable. However, we feel that restricting the view of workshop submissions to staff and paid premium members--those likewise invested in the Workshop experience--constitutes a reasonable degree of protection for your work's future publishability; cetainly within our own Anthology, and perhaps elsewhere. An editor running a casual Google search on a story you have under consdieration--just to see if you've self-published it online--would find it on your blog, or any number of other wide open or general access publishing venues, like an e-zine, an online magazine. But not within the protective confines of our workshop, not without being a member. While we cannot say with absolute assurance that a fussy editor for some other publication will not disqualfiy your story from consideration if he or she somehow finds out that you've workshopped it online, we can say with confidence that we offer a very reasonable degree of privacy and protection, and that sharing your story here is more like sharing it with a rather large creative writing class, rather than sharing it with the world at large. When you write something good enough to get placed in our Anthology, that's when you'll have a story that's published.