Writers in Workshop: The Perfectionist Versus the Experimentalist

by Tarin Kovalik

There are certain obligations that go along with a creative writing workshop. Writers need to send their story a few days before the workshop, writing must be “polished” (AKA free of grammatical errors), and the work must fit the bill of the genre. Though what makes a workshop are the people within it. Every writer is different, and after years of workshops, I’ve noticed writers can be labeled as either a perfectionist or an experimentalist.

The perfectionist writer is the person who has been writing their story for the past month, or *gasp*, even longer. This person has his or her story down packed, every transition, vignette, and character has been over-thought and well placed. The writer gets high remarks around the table and barely needs to make a scratch on their manuscript. Fellow writers in the room even find it difficult to make a suggestion for the piece.

The experimentalist writer finished their piece two minutes before turning it in. This person has three separate Word documents for the same story. The writer does not know where the story is going, but hey, let the workshop figure it out. They complain about the gaps in their piece to anyone in the cohort who will listen. There is a minimal, yet noticeable, amount of typos in the piece, and the title was something off the wall, probably a reference from their favorite movie in the 90s.

I am an experimentalist writer. I feel it is better to try new things, see if they work, and get them off my chest. I’ve recently incorporated numbers into my nonfiction pieces. I use them as sections in the story. It’s not working out for me, but better to know now! A recent typo I made was, “She had a laundry list of men at her disposable.” If I hadn’t been finishing the piece up until the last minute, maybe the workshop wouldn’t have thought my sister was throwing her dates into the nearest dumpster. The line was supposed to end with “disposal.” Oh well.

Creative writing workshops are maybe the most helpful thing for learning writers, and most times, are even fun. Maybe it can be argued that experimentalists are novice writers and perfectionists are experienced writers. Who knows, but I like having to the two join forces in a workshop. It creates a necessary change of pace.

So, are you a perfectionist or an experimentalist?

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