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Monday, August 8, 2011

The Workshop

So, I’m here today to discuss a feared, scary place in the writers world. The workshop. What exactly is a workshop? Well, quite simply, it’s a place, usually in a classroom setting, in which pieces of your manuscript, or writings, is read by strangers and critiqued. Sound frightening? It is. A lot.

I haven’t been a stranger to having my words looked over by friends and trusted acquaintances. Usually there has been simple grammatical revisions (Okay, not so simple. Thank you, Anna for your endless time spent changing my tenses and putting comma’s where they belong) and gentle, thoughtful advice. A lot of times things can be talked out if the words aren’t conveying exact what I wanted and in the end, I’m left with what I think is a good draft. A workshop is very different. These are strangers and they don’t have to be polite.

My first journey into the world of work-shopping happened a year ago during a creative writing class I was taking. I went into this class slightly cocky that I could take whatever was handed to me as far as criticism, but the fact of the matter was, I wasn’t. Not at all. I was in a class with people ten to fifteen years my junior and when I presented them with two chapters of a project I was working on, (and felt like was pretty damn good) I was shocked to hear them tell me things they just didn’t get. This YA piece, in particular, I was working on had a strong male voice and my group thought he was, I think the word was, a ‘dickhead.’

No, he wasn’t! How dare they think that?

“Why would anyone want to be with him, let alone this amazing girl he’s with?” They asked.

Because he’s AWESOME! They just didn’t get it.

“No eighteen year old guy (or girl) would talk like this (in this scene.)” They commented.

::GASP:: Yes they would! I WAS EIGHTEEN ONCE AND I REMEMBER TALKING I remember? Do those things change?

“Eh. It’s okay. I guess.” One guy said, shrugging his shoulders.

Alright. That one stung.

Did I mention that you have to remain absolutely silent during a workshop? Yup. You sit there and can’t explain a thing. You can’t say, “Well, that isn’t what I meant...” or “No, you just didn’t read it right.” They are true readers eyes and as a writer, you aren’t going to be there sitting next to them to correct them in their assumptions. This proves to be very hard. I mean, who’s fault is it if they don’t get ‘it?’ Certainly not---wait---oh yeah. It’s my fault. Ouch. That hurts :::slaps a band-aid on my ego::::

As painful as it might have been, I went at it again a few months ago. I took a class at private writing studio and this time the workshop was serious business. These six other people in my class were legit writers; two of whom already had agents, a couple who had finished manuscripts, others who were amazingly talented and yeah, well, me. This time, I knew what to expect from the actual process, but I was more nervous than I ever remember being in my life.

Twenty pages of my current project were workshopped and you know what? It wasn’t as painful as I remembered. In fact, it was pretty damn cool. Oodles of comments and thoughtful questions were presented to me to ponder over and while some of my favorite parts weren’t received as positively as I would have liked by the group, I learned something very important.

No one is going to love your words more than you do. No one.

The friend will give you some sound, helpful advice, but the stranger will give you the down-and dirty -truth. No room for hurt feelings or fragile egos. The safety of the ‘friend bubble’ gives way to potential disappointment when the ‘real’ readers get their eyes on your story. For me, I’d rather have a little practice at rejection before getting further into the process. Plus, hasn’t the statement, ‘learn from your mistakes’ been a valuable notion in our lives so far? I think so.

So, I’ll continue to workshop and have others view my work. My writers skin is getting thicker every time I do and that can only make me a stronger writer. That’s what it is all about, right?


Becci said...

Is it cool to comment on a blog you're part of? Whatever, I'm doing it anyway.

I feel like every single day one of the WBP girls give me something that is EXACTLY what I need to hear at that moment. Today? You. All you.

Because THIS -

No one is going to love your words more than you do. No one.

- is something I need to remember.

I can remember writing a line that I thought was just the utmost of romantic yearning and swoon and having someone say 'it didn't really flow. I wasn't sure what you were trying to say.' I was like 'SAY? WHAT SAY? YOU'RE JUST SUPPOSED TO FEEL IT!!"

So thank you for this, Mel. You are incredibly brave to go for face to face critique like that, and thank you for sharing your experiences.

carey said...

truth! i was terrified going into that workshopping experience after some bad songwriting class experiences, but i was so glad to leave class that day with so many things to think about. i'm lucky to have a very honest crit partner who somehow manages to stay one of my best friends even when she's honest, but the feedback from strangers and not-so-strangers is a totally different, and very valuable thing.

tonya said...

i'm just going to echo everything becci said.

No one is going to love your words more than you do. No one.

god, how true. and even when i am insecure about it and despise every single word, i'm still going to care more about it than anyone else reading. it's such a great fact to keep in mind.

i know i've said it before, but i am so proud of you for taking that workshop. that takes balls, lady. and i'm also a little (a lot) envious. i guess i should just move to chicago...

Lo said...

I love this post Melly <333