Workshopping your Work – How to find out what readers think | Sarah Gates

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There are many ways to learn to write. If you’re reading this, then you—like me—have probably tried a few.

I swear by a good writing workshop, particularly if it’s practical and focused. There are free resources too: the Writing Excuses podcast and Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 Creative Writing Lectures at BYU on YouTube gave me many a breakthrough.

During the pandemic, I got into read-along, review and reaction content that taught me a lot about how readers respond to stories and writing techniques. Harry Potter podcasts Unspoiled and Potterless had me thinking a lot about reveals and foreshadowing as I heard how these played out in real time.

I studied a major in Creative Writing at uni and, for the most part, it didn’t match up to some of these resources, experiences and epiphanies I’ve had through other sources. Except for the workshops.

A few of my classes included creative writing workshops instead of tutorials, where classmates and I would—on our designated week—share our work and receive feedback.

While the tutor’s feedback was always the most valuable, the sheer scale of other reader reactions was incredibly useful. If three in ten people found the characters’ motivations confusing, there was some tweaking to be done there. If several people suggested different ways it could start, maybe that part isn’t resonating and I should come up with another beginning.

In receiving feedback, people like to suggest solutions. Particularly other writers. In these workshops, I learned not to listen to the solutions—but instead, try to get at the crux of what wasn’t working for them.

In my current manuscript, my two beta readers both suggested a twist or new subplot at the same point in the story. That doesn’t tell me that I should adopt that particular twist or subplot. But it does mean that the story lagged in that part. There are many ways I can fix it now, I know.

In my July short course, Workshop Your First Chapter, I want to give everyone the chance to undertake an intensive workshop experience (albeit, for people new to this structure!) without needing to do a creative writing degree.

The first week will include a ‘lecture’ on writing a great first chapter. It’s the writing craft portion of the course. But we’ll also cover how to give and receive feedback—which are perhaps the most important skills for what comes next.

In weeks 2-4, a third of the class each week will share a first chapter and everyone will give feedback. That might be a marked-up Word doc (with tracked changes and comments) or it might be a paragraph or two of their thoughts and reactions—whatever they have the capacity to give.

I will also give a comprehensive summary of what worked, what didn’t and whether it’s at or close to publication standard, as well as tracked changes throughout the document.

Because all the feedback is shared in the group, you’re all in it together—and you’ll learn from other people’s feedback as well. It’s always really interesting, for example, what others notice that you don’t usually pick up on.

This means that there’s a lot of homework. You’ll need to read the other chapters each week and give feedback. But you’ll have seven days to do it (and really, there’s some flexibility here), and in return you’ll receive a host of information on one of the most important parts of your book—the start.

What did people think of your characters? Did they understand the set up (GMC, inciting incident, setting, any background)? Were they drawn in at the start and hooked by the end of the chapter? What do they think is going to happen next? Would they keep reading?

Are you ready to find out? I hope to see you in Workshop Your First Chapter. Come armed with a completed chapter. I can’t wait to read it!

Course Dates: July 4th—31st

Cost: $55 members; $66 non-members

Venue: Online – RWA Moodle Platform

For more information and bookings:

About the Presenter

Author and Presenter Sarah Gates

Sarah Gates romance author, copywriter and content marketer. She is the author of Love Elimination (Harlequin Australia) and a freelance writer published with Junkee, Voiceworks and InDaily. Sarah teaches writing workshops at high schools, libraries and state writers centres, and has appeared on panels at the National Young Writers Festival and Sydney Writers Festival. She can be found at

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