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.


Dana said...

I stumbled across your blog and have found it fascinating. It is now bookmarked.

I am mostly retired from eduction, but am still involved in three writers' groups, and I teach a short university sponsored course for senior citizens every year on writing memoir.

Reading your various posts and the comments has made me want to interact again with writing teachers. Professional talk is addictive to educators, and yet there is not enough of it. I always liked discussions of teaching, especially of writing, but if my butting in here is not what you had in mind for your blog, and if you feel I am out of line and need to remain out to pasture, then just delete.

I smiled to see more than one comment on one of your posts saying that writers who share their drafts seem often to be hurt by reader comments. I think it was Mark Twain who once wrote, "People ask for criticism, but they only want praise."

After a chuckle at Twain, perhaps one needs to consider the statement more carefully. They "want" praise.

We could argue what the implications of that are. I won't. But I remember a great article in College English, I think, years ago titled, "Writing as Performance and the Need for Applause." What an evocative idea.

As one of the comments said on your earlier post than this one:

" Here's something controversial: I think our *entire culture* is set-up to encourage thin-skinnedness. Everywhere you hear talk of self-esteem, so teachers of just about *everything* tip-toe around criticism, and parents are afraid to correct and/or deny even their own children for fear of "psychological damage."

Whenever someone hears I'm a writing prof and then asks for my "honest opinion" about something they've written, I know where it's headed. I'll say, "Do you really want my *honest* opinion," and they'll say yes. Then when I point (politely) to something that could be improved, they'll either pout or *argue* with what I've said.

If you want/seek honest feedback, you should be ready to hear stuff that hurts. But I guess it's like that famous Jack Nicholson line: people "can't handle the truth!" :-) "
So much there to consider and respond to. First, I really like the coinage, "thin skinnedness." Inventive, and it communicates.

I wonder if there is a difference, if only slight, between the writer assuring the writing prof that he or she really does want an honest opinion and the teacher response as described:
"Do you really want my *honest* opinion," and they'll say yes. Then when I point (politely) to something that could be improved, they'll either pout or *argue* with what I've said."
They want an opinion, and the prof poinedt out something that "could be improved." Right?

I wonder if the arguing or pouting is at least partly because the response didn't sound like an opinion, but a directive. I would need to hear the polite pointing out, but I have heard many. I wonder if it may go like this: "Well, here you should add more description of the room." Or, "You need to make this passage more dramatic so that...." etc.

Hardly sounds like opinions, perhaps? But if a writing prof does give an "honest opinion," then why should there not be discussion or even argument? Opinions from writing professors are not to be questioned? If the writer pouts, it seems to me to indicate the writing prof's response did not come across as opinion, but as final judgement. If the prof does not want argument, then it seems to me the response was not given as "opinion."

The "opinion" requested and the directive given is followed in the comment you received by the Nicholsen quotation. That makes me think that the writing prof who was asked for an "honest opinion" does believe that what is given is "the truth," and not really just an opinion.

I enjoyed your tone and comments in the blog post above this lengthy comment. You sound like a dedicated writer and teacher. You have an engaging style.

I wondered about a comment you made, however. You wrote, " 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."

It is interesting how you reveal a bit of your own personality, especially in the little aside, "to a fault, some would say." I have forgotten who said it, "One can write no more than a few lines before whispering secrets about him or herself." I like what you whisper. I was also amused at the secret whispered in your first line when you say "of course" referring to the characteristics of a Libra.

I do not know what type of workshops you are refering to, and response sessions vary considerably, of course.

So I do not know if the workshops where you are disappointed in thin skinned writer acceptance of criticism are for emerging writers, all students in a class, or writers committed as you are to being a successful author.

Isn't it probable that each group I mentioned might be expected to see critiques in a different way? Committed people might be hurt, but, like you, they write on.

What percentage of the general public willingly writes? Why not more? Did school critiques convince them they "couldn't write well" and so they don't write much?

Pick a sublect/class in which you were not an easy A student. Why do you not pursue that subject today? Partly because your lack of early success was made painful to you? Of course I don't know, but maybe?

I empathsize with students who have tasted little success in writing in the grades being required to take yet more writing classes in college and asking for an honest opinion and getting yet more harsh judgements instead.

That won't stop a commited, potentially successful writer from writing on, but it may stop math, science, engineering, nursing majors, and all the rest, from wanting to write. Something cetainly does!

Good for you in not stopping because "they" didn't get what you were trying to do. I am sure those who said they didn't get it made you consider how better to communicate your intent, though.

And thanks for the book recommendation. MAP of the WORLD is now on my list.

Interesting blog. "I'll be baaaack."


Anonymous said...

Re: your comment on critiquing....I would not critique a new writer's work in the same way that I look at a long time student's work. A new writer is tender and I don't want to scare him/her away. Someone who's been writing for a while is a different story. I figure if they've been writing awhile, they can take it. And if they can't, I figure they'll just deal with it as best they can. Either they will learn to take it, or they will decide it just isn't for them. Getting critiqued doesn't always feel sweet and I don't think there's any way to make it sweeter, except for not forgetting to stress what is working about the piece.

Thanks for commenting, Dana.

Al Panico said...

Hi Cuz,
How cool to see your blog too... I definitely post irregularly - three posts last week, four months since my previous post. Glad lyou are posting weekly or so. Hey, take care and keep up the good writing. Cuz, Al