The first thing that comes to mind is the passion my fellow workshoppers have for writing. Not only do they have passion for the craft, but they have a passion for genres I’ve either not been exposed to or aren’t interested in. Why is that useful? Because their passion is infectious. I’ve never been a mystery/suspense fan, but in reading some of the authors in our workshop, I’ve come to appreciate it just through seeing how their interest in it has flavored their plotlines, characters and settings. There’s something very valuable in reading and writing outside your comfort zone. In other words: just because I want to write science fiction doesn’t mean that’s all I should read and/or write. If anything, the opposite is probably more useful, and I wouldn’t have ever come to this realization had I not been in a workshop with such a variety of different talents.
Second, it’s filled with people that really bring their A game. Nothing makes me work harder for the workshop (and Ground) than knowing that I’m submitting along with some real contenders. Is it a competition? Maybe in some ways, but it never feels that way. Our fellow workshoppers (and myself, obviously) are all really working towards a singular goal: to improve. Sure, there are times with the critiques sting, but it’s never felt condescending or out of malice–the advice has always been directed at elevating our craft. Many times I’ve been miffed over some issues people had about various aspects of a piece I’ve submitted, only later to realize that their honesty was not only on the mark, but really helped me identify potential pitfalls in future submissions.
And lastly, I hope this doesn’t sound too narcissistic, but I’ve spent my life always feeling like an outsider. Like someone who doesn’t really have his own “people”. Workshop has changed this for me. It’s like suddenly I’ve been dropped into a community of people that speak my language.