Burn the Critique Letters

As a writer, I have always heard about “workshopping” your work. I have to confess, I am not much of a group writer. Not at all. In fact, even the thought kind of stresses me out. Some writing is too private for me to share until it is ready. Kind of like cooking. You don’t want to take it out too early.

Last week in my intro to writing class, I had a short story of mine “workshopped”. Basically, I sat around, listened to people talk about why I wrote what I wrote, talk about what was wrong with it, talk about what they liked about it and then offered up some ideas or suggestions. Now, there were a few good things that came out of it, ways I could make my story better. Most of them I already knew. But that was it. What mostly came out of it is that I hate workshops and want to burn every single critique letter. Especially in an intro to fiction writing class where the people in the class know what they are doing even less than me.

I do not enjoy having to read 3-4 shitty first drafts of short stories I have no interest in per week, let alone trying to write a “positive” critique letter and then sit around and talk about it. I detest this process. Some of these people in this class most likely fancy themselves the next Tolkien or Martin or Rowling or whoever and they are not. Ugh. I am in this class to hone my craft and learn some technical elements of writing and it has been a disapointment overall. I am not even sure I want to take another fiction writing class. But, not one to give up, I will try it again at the intermediate level this Fall.

I do believe there is value in sharing your work and having trusted people look for holes in your plot and everything else and give you their critique because you know they want you to release the best story possible. But this crap? I am SO not into it. I do not feel like I am learning much and if these critique letters were not such a big part of my grade, I would not bother. Good thing there are plenty of people in my class who like to talk during workshops, I am not one of them.

I found this quote from a guest post on Jane Friedman’s site, and Jennie Nash nails it perfectly:

A group of writers who are not trained to assess problems with a story or argument often get it wrong, or get it partially right, or demand specific remedies—not necessarily on purpose, but by a sort of unconscious group-think approach of what they like or don’t like. It’s not good. It comes without any assistance in how to move forward. You get the “it’s not working” feedback, but not the nurturing and patience you need to fix your problem, and certainly not the editorial understanding you need to prevent it from happening again. People may offer ideas for how they would fix things, or how they see your story or what they would do, but this is a sure path for crushing fragile new projects and wavering confidence.

This is what I have found, and this is what I don’t like. This is also why I used a story I don’t care about because I was definitely not going to use any piece of my novel because that work is deeply personal for me and it is not ready yet. When the time comes, I will select my own group that I think will benefit me. Until then, I am burning all the critique letters.


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Words

My mom loved words.  You would often find her reading the dictionary, giving people little notes.  

My dad loves words too.  He's a writer, a thinker and has four self-published books to his name.  Not bad.

The Bible says, paraphrased of course, in Proverbs 18;21 that the "tongue has the power of life or death".  I believe that to be true.  They can hurt, or they can harm.  Once spoken, they can be forgiven, though hard-pressed to be forgotten.

Many people throw words around carelessly, lobbing them like emotional grenades.  Words are powerful.  And they hurt.  Words burn in our psyches for a long time, sometimes even outlasting the people who said them.

Why are we always quoting what this person said or that person said if words have no power?  My word is my bond.  I gave you my word.  You gave me your word.  You went back on your word.

Especially in this time, be careful with your words.  We tell children all the time to "use your words".  I think we as adults need to also follow that admonishment but in addition, use them to heal and not harm.

I have discovered I too have a deep love of words.  I intend to do my best to use my words to heal the world, not harm it.  That is part of my life's work.

I decided to say thank you today to someone publicly on Facebook.  It felt good for me to do it, and it felt good for them to receive it.  And I daresay it brought us that much closer.  

So use your words.  And realize the power that lies in them.  Will you heal, or will you harm?

 

Quit Resisting This Shit.

I did it.  Finally.  It's been almost a month since I have written any words for my book.  Either of them.  Unacceptable.  So, after doing morning pages and working through another week of "Walking In This World", by Julia Cameron, I got out my pen and paper and wrote 600 words in 15 minutes.  For some reason, that timer thing really works for me.  And it keeps the creative juices flowing, keeps me connected with my story.  Steven Pressfield, best-selling author, calls putting off the work Resistance.  Here's a sweet little video that explains what I mean.  

 

Last week was not a good creative week for me.  I only did morning pages four days out of seven, was running here and there and just a little off kilter.  I started working on the sales floor at my job, and so I always get a little constricted when starting new things, so there was that.  Some early mornings, not sleeping well, etc.

I decided to devote this morning to creative work.  First I had to clean my room!  It's amazing how utterly messy a 10x12 space can get, but it happens.  I cannot create in an untidy space.  I took care of a few things I had been putting off, such as paying car insurance.  Probably not a good idea if I'm going to drive for Lyft. 

Lyft!  Yes, it launched in Portland on Friday, April 24th.  I have yet to give my first ride, as I have been a little resistant and nervous because that too is new.  So many new things!  Sometimes I get tired of being in beginner's mind and embracing the suck.  But, there is always growth in learning, and I think that is always valuable.  

I feel so much better having gotten some words on the page.  Some may view creativity as a luxury, but for me, it is a necessity or my soul will wither up and die.  It has to be my first priority.  So, that means if I work at 9am, I need to be up at 6am so I can get my morning pages in and get some words written towards my book.  It's just that simple, but sometimes I make it oh so hard.  

I am heading off for work at 1pm.  I am hopeful I only have a 4-hour shift to pull so I can get to open mic tonight.  No, I am not just hopeful.  I trust that I will be out of there at 5:30 pm so I can attend.  I am manifesting that shit right now.  We have these fun little things at work called "flex shifts" so you never know until 2 hours before if you have to work or not.  So I don't know if I'm working 4 hours today or 8.  Just some extra fun things working in retail brings.  

I need that extra boost of inspiration tonight.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll read some more poetry.  Open mic not only showcases some incredible talent, but feeds my well of inspiration so I can then go out and create more.  Plus, it's in Sellwood, which is where my novel is set.   Always good to visit the setting of your book, if you can.  At least in my opinion. They do say to "write what you know", don't they?  

Today I quit resisting my book, and asked my story what it had to tell me.  Turns out a lot.  600 words in 15 minutes?  Not too bad.  And so I soldier on.  I am at about 7,000 words so far.  Now, if I would have written every day for the last month, that would have been an additional 18,000 words...gulp....25,000 words...gulp... and I would have been a lot further towards my goal of 80,000 words.  See where Resistance has got me?  Nowhere good.  BUT, I am back on track and I kicked Resistance in the ass today.  Happy Monday!!!