Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I got my ass kicked at a writing workshop

Last night my second and final story got workshopped in my beginning fiction class.  I had been very excited about this; my first story was well-received, and I tried to really amp up the work this time around.  I was trying to be ambitious and worldly, to move around chronologically and write two interweaving stories, one when the protagonist is 15 and one when he is 45.  I was trying to write in a non-linear way about a character who was not a carbon copy of me at the present moment.  Enough of these short stories that take place within a few hours, when some protagonist who is the demographic equivalent of the author experiences some precious little epiphany.  I wanted to be narratively bold and sophisticated, to tackle some big themes.  When I passed out my story for the class to read, I was pretty proud of myself, and I thought that it had turned out well for a first draft, although obviously it needed a lot of work.

Well, unfortunately, as the workshop got under way, things were not looking so hot.  The conversation zoomed in immediately on the weak spots of the piece.  "Uneven" was the adjective that really set the tone for the discussion of the story.  I concentrated on taking copious notes, to avoid having to look at anyone as we all discussed my stilted dialogue, or how the tone was too even, or how there should be more anger.  As time passed I kept hoping for the conversation to move on to other elements (how about that sophisticated chronology?  did anyone catch how narratively bold I'm being?) but we remained mired in the bad parts.  As someone who is bad at hiding my emotions, I think it was pretty obvious that I was deflating.  By the end of the conversation, the instructor was noting that although the class discussion had focused on the problematic areas, there was a lot in the piece that worked very well -- and then he quickly went through a laundry list of good things.  But the damage was done.

I felt like a real jackass for being so proud and happy about the work.  I was embarrassed at having talked to the instructor about how excited I was to get feedback from the class.  I tried to pull myself out of my funk for the rest of the session, but I couldn't manage it -- I didn't say a word for the rest of class.  I felt like I had left my guts on the page, that I had dug really deep and put myself out there, and that I had just gotten shat on for my efforts.  I wanted to pause in the conversation and ask: "So did anyone like anything about it?  Did anything work for anyone?"  But of course you can't do that in a writing class, where workshop protocol is as sacred and inviolable as, say, the procedure for selecting a new Pope.

I had a long, redemptive, enjoyable conference with the instructor afterwards.  He said my impression of the conversation was probably a lot worse than it actually had been.  This could very well be true.  When I got home I read everyone's written critiques, and suddenly there it was -- proof that the story was not the abject failure I had thought.  People appreciated different elements of it, and found it moving in different ways, and said some really nice and thoughtful things about it.  Great.

Although I still feel dumb and embarrassed for letting myself be so crushed by all of this, I am still licking my wounds over the whole thing.  I have to put that particular story aside for a while and work on some other stuff for the time being.  Part of this is vanity, and part of it is the need for constructive criticism to come bundled with something good, something I can hang on to.  When in doubt, blame astrology -- I'm a Pisces, and I'm sensitive about my shit.

1 comment:

anp said...

Keep your chin up, MKD. Knowing you, I have no doubt that you will use this as motivation after the appropriate amount of (a) time and (b) chocolate.

It was merely one workshop at the beginning of hopefully a long career of serious writing. Keep putting pen to paper (or in this case fingers to keyboard).