workshopping your writing

A former student and current friend asked me to blog on something controversial, so he could comment. So I sat for a minute, took a bite of fettucine with chopped basil and tomatoes, and thought. This was a hard one. I’ve been so controversial at times that I’ve lost friends over that quality I have that allows me to say more than I intended (or maybe I did intend and just wanted to push and see what would happen? I do like to shake things up, it seems).

So, controversial means (to me) something that might lose a few friends for ya. I really don’t want to lose more friends than I already have, but then it came to me. I had just the thing that would be controversial, at least in regards to this friend ( and former student) who wrote asking for controversy.

This is it. It has to do with writing workshops and having a thin skin and encountering a few workshop participants who either don’t get your work or get it and are giving you a hard time about it. So you leave. You decide that you’ve gotten all you need from said workshop and it’s time to strike out on your own. At least that’s the excuse you give.

When in fact what has happened (most of the time) is that your ego has grown ungainly and is misleading you, as egos tend to do.

So many writers are too thin-skinned for their own good. And it’s too bad because I’ve seen some talented writers decide what they really need is to go it alone, and then falter. They start doing crazy things–or continue to do crazy things that I (or another teacher) told them not to do: they write for no pay because it gives them a deadline (they say) or they decide their book (or story) only needs one more pass, if that, and they start sending it out (prematurely) and it gets rejected and then they badmouth the publishing industry (which, frankly, does deserve it, to a point).

You may be thinking: I have this opinion because I need paying students to help keep me afloat. Wrong. These writers that I see go astray are often the ones I’ve told I’d let stay in the workshop for free, because I see their need.

This brings me back to that old saw: Why do we think writing is different from learning another art form? That we only need to be writing seriously a year or two and then we’re ready to go it alone? That is so wrong.

Most of us need workshops for a loooonnnnnggggg time. Years, actually. We need to hear what other writers–our chosen critiques–have to say. Because just get out there and start dealing with agents and publishers and if your skin is thin from years of seclusion, you will give up the whole dealybob of writing to publish.

Well, my dinner is finished now. I have a piece of basil stuck in my throat. I’m going to get up and pour some more pinot. And I’m going to wait for my friend (former student) to post to this very controversial post and tell me how I’m full of it.

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workshopping your writing

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