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 In Me

At a young age they claimed me.  And I was forever gone.  Roaming the bookshelves in libraries.  Secreting away books too big and too long for me. I read them anyway.

I could learn anything, go anywhere, be anyone.  Still I remained me.  The same and yet a little different with every word I took in.  Hungering and thirsting, more, more, more! No book big enough.

Until one day I discovered I too had words in me.  And all the words I took in came pouring back out.  The same, but different.  In the coming of my own age I could tell my story to the spaces on my page.  No judgment, no remorse, only release.

A secret space reserved for me.  Freed to fly on wings of speech I said all the things I never could out loud. 

My Drug

When I don't write, I get itchy.  When I don't write, I feel ungrounded.  So, hence, I write.  Sometimes I work on my book.  Sometimes I blog.  I almost always write morning pages, every day. 3 pages of whatever I want and it takes the edge off.  I just don't feel right if I don't.  I've had a novel in progress for a little over 3 years and I am coming close to getting the 1st draft finished.  Writing has taken over my life.  The yin to writings' yang is reading, of course.  I am an avid reader, constantly being surrounded by stacks and stacks of books of my own and almost daily trips to the library.    

When I say it is my drug, I mean it.  I crave it, and after I've taken a hit, I always feel the endorphins flowing.  Sometimes it scares me but most times it soothes me.  I don't need any other high than this.  And I feel incomplete without it.  Lately I have not been blogging much because I deactivated my website for awhile.  It feels good to get back to it.  I'm using this as a warm-up to get me into working on my book.  It's been a few days since I've done that too.  

I listen to instrumental pieces when I'm writing because that gives me something for my mind to focus on and leaves my creativity free to flow.  I can't do music with words because I start singing along and then I lose all track of what I'm supposed to be doing.  Right now I'm listening to "1916: The Irish Rebellion".  A soundtrack composed by Patrick Cassidy.  My favorite instrumentals to listen to are movie or tv show soundtracks.  Outlander and Lord of the Rings are my other favorites.  I suppose I choose music with fantastical elements because my book contains fantastical elements and that is the genre I am currently writing in.  

For me, creativity is a powerful force, and one I dedicate myself to and surrender to daily.  I like to think about God as the "Great Creator", and we work together to bring out the stories inside of me.  I trust the Great Creator with the quality and my job is the quantity.  Thus, I am responsible for co-creating my life with the Divine.  It is a pretty sweet spot, once you find it.  

I think we all have it.  It just takes a little digging to get to.  When people say they are not creative, I don't buy it.  Maybe not a painter, like my brother, or a writer, like me, but the power to create lies in all of us, no matter what that might be.  It feels good to be back in the saddle again, so-to-speak.  If I had to choose an animal to exemplify creativity for me, it would be the horse, without question.  

And this concludes my writing exercise for the day.  Now onto book pages, and I'll leave you with this little gem:

How Do You Answer the Big Question?

What would you do if you could do anything? I often like to ask people this question.  And this is the question we get asked periodically at different times during our lives.  Most of the time I never knew what to say.  I would be envious of those who seemed to know exactly what they wanted from their life and marched after it.  They knew what they would do, and they were doing it.  

I never knew I could create my own life.  For a long time I had no idea I actually could design my very own custom life.  Sometimes you don't know what you don't know.  I took things as they came to me, and lived a lot on auto-pilot.  But all along, things were stirring.  I remember watching the first Lord of the Rings movie in 2001, sitting in my cubicle thinking and knowing there had to be more but I had no idea what or how.  

It is not for the faint of heart.  From that point on, my life took me on an incredible journey.  And now, through more than a few years of deep self-work and excavation, I am doing it.  I am creating and designing a life I love.  Filling it with people I love, and things I love, and finding out what my interests and passions are.  I don't know if there is one true passion.  I guess the thing I think about most is writing.  That is the place where I go deep inside and lose myself.  But I am sure interested in a bunch of other things, like photography, traveling, history, languages, music .  

This life I have chosen is not easy.  In fact, it's damn hard sometimes.  Living with people, scrambling to come up with rent, patching together odd jobs.  But I learned something.  Well, a few things.  40 hours a week working for someone else does not leave me with the energy I need to create.  And writing is that sweet spot, where my dreams touch the Earth.  Now that I have found it, I am not about to give it up.  So I do whatever is necessary to protect it and nurture it.  Quite frankly, I don't want life to be "easy".  I want to always be growing, learning, changing and evolving.  

There is no retirement.  I hope I'm still writing and traveling when I'm 90.  I use that because that is how old my maternal grandmother is, and she just got her first cell phone.  I think the myth of retirement is that, a myth.  We wait and we wait and we wait and sometimes it pans out and sometimes it doesn't.  I refuse to believe the best thing I can hope for is to work some job with great benefits and hope I have enough energy left to do things when I'm 65 or 70.  Who knows if I'll make it that far, or my pension, 401k or Social Security will.  I don't want to "retire".  I intend to live a full, vibrant life.  If I have learned anything, as cliche as it is, there are no guarantees.  

GO!!!  One of my very best friends frequently posts this on my Facebook status updates.  And notice, it is an action word.  So go!!! Go towards your dreams, whatever they are.  Cultivate those ideas whispered in your dreams.  Pay attention and say yes.  I promise, you life will take a magical turn.  But be warned, once you open that door and go, there is no going back.