But here's the kicker; neither were they, when they attended those workshops. They went there to learn. That's what a writing workshop is for. When I attended Clarion, a lot of my stories were hot messes, sometimes with the occasional pearl or two floating in the mire. (Hell, there are those who think my writing is still a hot mess.) A good workshop for beginners isn't there to shame you if your writing skills aren't what they could be. It's there to inspire and challenge you. Ideally, it's a space in which you can push yourself and fall because you took the courage to aim higher than your reach. I think of workshops for budding writers as places for writing badly precisely because you're trying out new skills. It's not pleasant to hear that you still don't have the knack of it. But in the workshop, there's room to keep trying. Saying "I can't apply to x workshop for non-published writers because I'm not good enough," boils down to, "I can't apply for school because I have a lot to learn." See the circular reasoning there?
Mind you, some workshops suck at the part about creating a space that empowers you to risk failure. Avoid like poison any workshop that confuses constructive criticism with ridicule. A good instructor/administration tries to nip that shit in the bud the second it happens. A bad instructor/administration *participates* in it. Make no mistake; constructive criticism of your writing can be painful to experience. A workshop that's all feelgood all the time is useless. There's a place somewhere between empty praise and pointless shaming where you can find honest efforts to help you improve your writing. Those are the workshops you want.
Now, if selection is based on the promise your work shows, there's a good chance that you won't get in the first time you apply, or the second, or the ninth. You may never be accepted. But taking that risk is good practice for submitting your stories to editors. I can't tell you how many workshop students have told me that they applied more than once to the workshop before they were admitted. Yes, it's scary. If fear of rejection is really what's keeping you from applying, I completely understand. Rejection stings. I've been a published writer for over 15 years, and I still feel awful every time I get a negative review, or a reader blogs a rant about how shite I am. But I've come to think of that as part of the job. Athletes have bumps and bruises, too. The shame of being rejected doesn't stick long enough to ruin my joy in making art. In the spirit of being honest, I'll confess that the best cure for the sting is that there are editors and readers who like my work. If there weren't, I'd probably find it more difficult to keep going. But before I was published, I didn't have access to that cure. Budding writers generally don't. If one of them decides that the likelihood of rejection if they continue is more than they can bear, that makes sense to me. But please, please don't prevent yourself from applying for a workshop that could improve your writing because your writing needs to be improved. It makes my heart hurt when people do that.
Because the thing is, sometimes the act of applying and being rejected in itself helps the writer strengthen their skills. I once trapped a mouse in a very, very tall container with smooth sides. I couldn't bear to kill her. I was planning to release her outside, far away from the house. I didn't have a lid for the container. The mouse was desperate. She kept leaping, trying to get out the top, but since she could barely get 1/4 of the way up, I felt certain she'd remain in there until I could get my coat and boots on. However, with the next jump, she got 1/3 of the way up. I watched, fascinated. Two leaps later, she reached halfway up. Before I could get to the container, she tried a couple more jumps, made it to the top, and skedaddled out of there. I have to say that a part of me was cheering for her.