Guidelines for QWF Workshop Participants and Workshop Leaders

QWF workshops are known for their collegiality and open, respectful environments. All participants are expected to help foster a safe space where we can work together creatively, sharing ideas, feedback and opinions.

Guidelines for Receiving Feedback

The process of giving and receiving criticism is a great step towards improving your craft, but it can be challenging. Your work is your baby; you’ve invested a lot of yourself in its creation. The prospect of revealing our writing makes us all feel vulnerable.

You’re not trying to educate readers about your text, you’re trying to get them to educate you about your text.

Elbow and Belanoff, Sharing and Responding
  • Don’t defend your work. Just listen. Some comments will be more valuable than others, but every comment is information for you about a reader’s response. You don’t have to make any changes you don’t want to make. Tip: Take notes that you can review later, out of the heat of the moment.
  • After you’ve listened, you will have a chance to respond. You may correct factual errors, if any, but not other people’s reactions. As a rule, it’s best to ask questions rather than explaining, clarifying or justifying. For example:  
    • “At what point in the story did you stop caring about the main character?”
    • “Which images in the poem did you find heavy-handed/irrelevant/fuzzy?”
  • If most of your readers didn’t understand some aspect of your piece, that’s important information for you.

Guidelines for Giving Feedback

The most successful workshops are those where the participants earn each other’s trust. Your goal is to help your colleagues improve their work by giving honest—but sensitive—feedback. Your comments should always apply to the writing and not to the author.

The following tips will help you to strike the right tone when you’re called upon to give your feedback.

  • Your criticism can be both honest and supportive. Before you speak, determine what you think are the piece’s strengths and weaknesses. The writer needs to know both. One time-honoured way to give feedback is the “sandwich” method, where you say something positive, give your constructive criticism, then finish with another positive.
  • Follow up your general comments with specific examples from the text. For example:
    • Pinpoint specific lines or words that illustrate your points.
    • If you think the work needs tightening, point out passages you think could be cut or passages that should be moved to make it more cohesive.
  • Don’t try to change someone’s work into something you would have written; your goal is to help each writer make their piece most fully itself. If your reactions are matters of taste and not, e.g., matters of grammar or clarity, acknowledge that.
  • Remember that the narrator in a work is not the writer and the narrative voice is not the same as the writer’s voice. Even if the piece is in the first person and/or is based on the writer’s personal experience, it represents a transformed self.

Be respectful, whether critiquing someone else’s work or responding to their comments on yours.

A Note about Controversial Material

Part of making QWF and its workshops safe spaces is striving to eliminate bias and negative stereotypes. This includes our writing. That doesn’t mean that no negative or distressing thing can ever be presented in a workshopped piece. On the contrary, good writing is one of our best tools to explore and counter bad behaviour with clarity and compassion.

A workshop is also one of the best venues for the exchange of ideas, including tough subjects. We support freedom of expression, with a concomitant responsibility to treat each other with mutual respect. Therefore, no submission on any topic or written from any point of view should be refused respectful consideration in a writing workshop. Workshop leaders and participants may respond negatively to work they deem offensive, but they should strive to articulate the issues and avoid personal accusations, for the sake of keeping the channels of communication open. Authors should understand that they may be questioned regarding their work’s intent, and they should be prepared to entertain those questions.


  • If you are offended by a piece of writing, please articulate your critical judgment in a calm and measured way, or the writer will not hear you.
  • Whether you expect it or not, if someone is offended, please receive their feedback in a spirit of openness. Remember that they may be feeling hurt.
  • Take this opportunity to work together toward greater understanding.

A Note on Intellectual Property

The participants’ writing is their property, and is not to be shared or reproduced, or appropriated in any way without the express written permission of the author.

QWF Conflict Resolution Process

The QWF has a process in place for any writer who feels personally attacked or unsafe in a workshop because of responses offered to their writing submission, or because of harassment of any kind in the context of the workshop. Please see our conflict resolution process for more details.