Don’t fight the rule

January 13, 2011

I went back to the New writing workshop last night – I had a good time and got some good notes on the first three pages of “The Landing”, as well as listening to some funky poems and stories and telling the other writers what I thought about them.

It was definitely a different experience than the first time I went, in September. I came prepared for some ‘intensely constructive criticism’, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. But there was something else that I was reacting too differently.

The workshop co-ordinator made a point of spelling out ‘his rule’ for these workshops – the author hands out the copies, gives a little explanation if he (or she) feels inclined to, reads… AND THEN SHUTS UP. The rest of the group are then free to respond in any way they feel moved, to get into a discussion among themselves, but they are not supposed to ask the author questions. And the author is not supposed to reply to their feedback, beyond the level of grunts or pleasantries perhaps.

I do remember something being said along these lines back in September, but not as clearly – and I definitely didn’t follow the rule back then. That was a lot of the problem, I see now – I started to get defensive about my story, which probably got some of the other participants more insistent on making their points.

This isn’t the only way to run a critiquing circle, of course. The Chester’s group has a format where the people who wrote the piece are welcome into the discussion, and questions are often asked of them, and that works quite well for the group there by and large. But the rule for the new workshop probably encourages more indepth criticism, as opposed to promoting encouragement of authors.

I’ll definitely be going back to James street north for the New Workshop again this winter. And – I’m sorry for arguing back last time, guys.


Taking serious criticism is a tough gig.

September 24, 2010

Possibly one of the hardest stages in any kind of artistic endeavour is having to open your work up to criticism.

I was invited, along with everybody else who was at the local Hamilton Writers meeting four weeks ago, to a new Hamilton Artists’ Writers Workshop. I was excited about giving it a try, and missed the first session owing to a confusion about the dates, but I was also nervous from the start about bringing something of my own to get critiqued by a group of unfamiliar writers.

I ended up bringing copies of a short story that I very much like, ‘The case of the Wizard’s Vice,’ a sort of Agatha Christie meets Harry Potter caper. Because there wasn’t an abundance of time, I only got to read the introduction and the denoument, skipping over the interviews in the middle, but the responses I got definitely had me thinking about the piece in a very different way, and had my head spinning for a little bit.

Significantly, most of the gathering seemed to agree that the choices I’d made to tell almost the entire story in dialog, and to avoid characterizing the Inspector/narrator more than absolutely necessary, were keeping them from relating to the characters or getting emotionally involved in the story. “Dialog fills in the plot,” somebody said. “Narration grounds you in the characters, and you have almost no narration here.”

There were a lot more notes, not all of which I’m going to review here, but… I think I’m not going to be able to start a fresh draft of the story immediately, which is probably good, I can give myself time to let it settle and ask a few writer friends what they think of the notes before immediately changing things. Still, I’m glad that I went and took a chance – it’s better to hear this sort of thing now than to keep thinking that the story is beautiful and flawless, and maybe start pushing hard to sell it without thinking of the ways that it could be made accessible to a different audience.

In other news, I have awarded the Versatile Blogger award to Merinda Brayfield, who’s also a long-time friend of mine from the #nanowrimo chat room. It’s nothing personal that I didn’t also give her the One Lovely Blog, but I felt that it didn’t entirely make sense to keep the two awards together the whole time, so unless I particularly want to award both of them to the same people, I’ll be picking just one or the other.


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