On Writing: Workshop

February 3rd

On writing: Workshop

I am taking a writing class focused on narrative. The class has 10 women and an instructor. We get together for a couple hours a week to discuss writing technique and to review each other’s work. This process of “workshopping” my writing is entirely new; the only time I’ve given a chapter of work to group to edit was in an undergraduate creative writing course more than 10 years ago.

The experience has been multi-layered. There is the emotional — is there anything as vulnerable as handing off something you consider “art” to a group of strangers for critique? There is the practical — I have to be incredibly disciplined to stay on top of my writing assignments and editing others’ work in the evenings after working the day job. There is the also the intellectual — there have been nights I can’t sleep because my brain won’t shut off. I’m trying to learn so much in a brief period of time and apply it to this novel without letting the Negative Nancies get me off track.

I’d be remiss not to mention the balance once must muster when reviewing edits. I submitted my first chapter and received in return 11 sets of corrections, opinions, and thoughts. Most of these were subjective. Of course those objective — typos, spelling errors, etc — are to be fixed with gratitude for the editor. Then there are those long, red ink, cursive notes down the page suggesting how you should have written it. And the details you should have included. And what would make it more believable.

The balance is in reading those edits and deciding what holds merit vs. what is nonsense. Writing is a subjective art form. As the author, you’ve got to believe in what you are creating, and stay firm to the elements of your story that are non-negotiable.

Also, it is helpful to pick up your suit of thick skin from the dry cleaner the week before you workshop so you can have every button and zipper fastened and armored. My suit is the Insecure Writer Deluxe 2.1 version. It whispers in my ear every 10 minutes “You can do it! Keep writing! You won’t please everyone, and that is more than okay. It’s ideal.” And if it gets wet with salty tears it kicks into hyper-protective mode, available only with this version: “Fuck them.* You are a good writer. Keep writing.”

Keep writing, friends,


*I know! Profanity on the craft blog! Don’t blame Finny. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

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Good to Great, Novel
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6 Responses

  1. Ah yes – I know the feeling! Every time we have a ‘test’ screening (even if for a few members of the cast & crew) I cringe. Obviously I like what I’ve done, but to hear 10 other people’s likes & dislikes can be disheartening at the least. It is HARD. But you’re right. It is subjective. Staying true to yourself (as the artist) & being open to things that *might* make it better is a balancing act one is constantly working on. I can’t wait to read your next novel!!

  2. What a cool opportunity. Can’t wait to see what comes of your writing.

  3. Oh dear — flashbacks to fiction and non-fiction workshops back in college – ha!

  4. It sounds very stimulating along with scary. I used to have to do photo critiques in college and that could be very crushing, too, when people didn’t “get” what you thought was so obvious or dismissed it as trivial, average, all that stuff. But, it could also be very rewarding and instructive.

  5. believe that! Sometimes profanity is the best weapon.

  6. Brittany February 3, 2012

    I understand your pain, Kelli. I did my first art fair last Sunday and, while I appreciate critiques when appropriate, I had a woman stand at my booth for over 30 minutes going through EVERY.SINGLE. photo that I had and telling me how I could/should improve most of them. Not great for sales! Or for my ego!!! I know she meant well, but I’ve dropped the f-bomb several times in the past few days thinking of her. Funny how that one negative person outweighs all the positive feedback I received all that morning.

    Keep your chin up. You’re doing this to hone your craft. You’re already a great writer and this can only make you better. :0)