I guess I've done workshops before. I've had my peers review my papers when the teacher assigns us to do so. But those were all essays, dealing with thesises and topic sentences and supporting arguments. While I don't mind writing essays (depending on the topic), it's not the same as the writing I do for fun and that I hope to do for a living one day.
And I guess, in all technicality, I've had people review my work. But they've all been close friends and family. While I could expect honesty, I could also expect some sugar coating to go with it. They wouldn't crush my dreams entirely.
Now I take my creative writing course. We did our first piece in the creative nonfiction genre. Still isn't the type of writing I plan on doing, but it's closer than an essay. The only difference is this piece actually happened to me, so I am the protagonist rather than someone else I create and write about. And today we sat down for our first workshop to analyze our work.
I walked into class with a knot in my stomach and I felt very weak. To me, this was when I would finally know my standing as a writer, or at least a basic understanding of my level. I could just imagine my peers trying to muster up something decent about the piece to pacify their dislikes about it, what they would criticize, and whether I should just crawl in a hole now or go through the torture first.
But...magic. First, my peers really enjoyed my piece. My heart got a little fluttery when I realized they were being genuine. And then they talked about it, and I clicked on parts that I can make stronger, cut out, improve, or add onto, as well as the parts that were strong and I did right. It was so very helpful and not at all painful.
Moral of this post: let people read your work.
It's only going to make your piece stronger and better, as well as your writing.