Thursday, November 17, 2005

More on workshopping

Being a Libra, I of course see both sides of a situation and can see virtue in each side. (Actually, I tend to see more sides that are there.....!) I do feel people do the best they can and sometimes they just reach a limit.

Thing is, the teacher in me wants them to push beyond their limits, and becomes disappointed when they don't, or can't. The writer in me--which is a bigger part of me; it was there first, before the teacher--has little patience for the thinned skinned approach. I have been through a ton of workshopping and have brought stuff that stunk and have been the recipient of criticism that hurt. I guess I kept going because I made the commitment and am loyal to my commitments--to a fault, some would say. I used to think, some day I will come here and they will love what I bring. That day came.

I know this: That day would not have come had I quit because of my feelings that they just didn't get what I was trying to do.

Currently reading: Map of the World by Jane Hamilton.
I didn't pay much attention to this book when it became a bestseller a few years back. Partly it was because the book is difficult--a child drowns. When my son was smaller, children getting hurt in books was too too much. But what an incredible book. Such wonderful writing and character development. We can all learn a thing or three from this book.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Silencing the voices

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Van Gogh said this and one of my Gotham students posted it on our classroom board. I love it. It so applies to writing. Only by writing do all those voices that say you can't or shouldn't or why bother go away. At least for a time.

I received a bunch of emails referring to my blog post on workshopping. One person said I was unfair and unprofessional to have that sort of attitude, that maybe I didn't have all the details.

I knew it would be controversial, that blog.

But here's the thing--sometimes there are reasons someone withdraws from a workshop that have nothing to do with critiquing and being thin-skinned or fearful and have everything to do with income or family obligations or time. I'm not talking about those people. I was really talking about students who havetold me that others don't get their work and that's why they're leaving. There have been only a few over the years. But this happens in all workshops and so I was also talking in general, to also say, when you feel others are not getting what you're trying to do, to examine that response of yours. Sometimes our feelings are hurt. Sometimes we pour ourselves onto the page and when we get a ho-hum response, it's painful. So, to make sure you're not leaving a workshop because the response isn't what you'd hope.

Other times I've seen writers receive wonderful feedback, only the writer focuses on that bit of criticism that makes them feel bad and turns it all into sour stuff. Sometimes most others "got it," but maybe someone didn't and that's what the disgruntled writer is focused on.

I dunno.

What I do know is that writing silences all those voices.

Monday, November 14, 2005

TC Boyle in the Sacto Bee

TC Boyle in the Sacramento Bee talking about literature...that it's mostly entertaining.
Click here

You may have to register to see it (I did, but it only took a moment). Here's an excerpt:

"People are put off by me because I'm so productive and such a good performer," says Boyle, 53, who will appear Wednesday evening at the Crest Theatre in a talk sponsored by California Lectures. "They think it's not proper for a writer. But I don't agree. Anybody can do whatever he wants, as long as the work backs him up."

And this...

"That said, it takes work. If you have the ability and devote your entire life to it and you're very lucky, you may get an audience and be a productive artist. It's really difficult in our society to be an artist. There's a lot of competition and nobody really cares. So, why not enjoy it and have fun?"

Friday, November 11, 2005

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.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fear stinks

Is anyone else worrying about the avian flu? You read the papers and soon you're freaking out, looking for Tamiflu, thinking you will stock up.

I hate how the media does that.

Well, next Thursday, November 16 (is that a Thursday?), one of my guests will be Marc Siegel, M.D., author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear. Read more about him here. Of course his book is not about fear as concerns writers but writers are also immobilized by fear--fear of not succeeding, fear of discovering that their work stinks, fear that they will never ever write one decent paragraph or story or book.

Speaking of books, my other guest that night will be the new book editor at the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin. He was on before with his book, The Myth of Solid Ground. We'll talk about changes at the book review. I'm happy about David's new post and happy most of his writer friends are women. Maybe this means we'll start seeing more books by women covered by the Book Review--finally!