One of the writing workshops I'm taking this semester is intermediate fiction. Catherine, my professor, has a completely different teaching style than Tom, so it has been an adjustment for me. She's very structured and assigns reading responses and presentations for us to complete along with our short stories and critique letters (we write letters to the other students, critiquing their stories when they're up for workshop).
My progress so far: I've put one short story up for workshop, An Unfaithful Girl. It's about an elderly man who files for divorce from his wife after discovering letters from an affair she had seventy years previously. I was happy with the workshop; I wasn't torn apart but got some great critiques.
I've also written two short-shorts (1-4 page short stories) that were workshopped in small groups. My first was written in second person (something I'd never attempted) about musical theatre boys, and my second was about a young girl whose family is always moving around and starting over in a new town (not totally autobiographical, though. I pulled a few things from my own life and gave them to this character). My group members for my first workshop didn't give me much advice, but I got tons of critiques from my second group.
What I've learned: My fiction is very traditional. I think this comes from the time I've spent learning from Tom, who believes in realistic fiction all the way. My form isn't too experimental; I focus more on the story and the characters.
I've learned to trust my instincts. Over the past seven months, I've improved so much at workshopping and revising my own work. I can take a step back and look at a story from an outsider's point of view, picking out pieces that don't make sense and finding better paths to take. During my post-workshop conference with Catherine, I told her the initial plan for my story. I'd written it another way, changed my mind halfway through, and went back and cut about a third of the story. When I told her my initial plan, she nodded her head and said, "I would've cut that, too." It was a great moment for me, because it proved I can do this on my own. I don't need a professor reading every single draft and okaying every cut I make. I don't need constant validation.
What I'm doing now: I'm in the process of writing a second short story (I'm up for workshop again March 20th!). I don't want to say anything about it yet in case I jinx it. I'm on my third partial draft; I've had trouble pinning down exactly what the story is about. I think I might finally have it, so cross your fingers for me!