I had my first short story workshopped today. It went fairly well. No one said anything awful about it, and I got some really great suggestions. Some things people said I already knew but was unwilling to admit to myself. Other things, I was totally unaware of. Everyone seemed to agree that I have the capacity to write a disturbing, messed up character. I will take that as a compliment.
I had been slightly worried about the workshop. Last week I experienced my first workshops of the MFA program. If you aren’t familiar with MFA programs and how they work, they are all about workshops. You turn in a piece of writing to not only your professor, but to everyone in your class. Then, the next week, your professor and classmates discuss your piece, and you don’t say anything until they are done. This means that they can speculate about your characters, plot, etc. and you can’t answer their questions until the end, when you get a sort of rebuttal period.
Last week, my travel class workshopped 10 essays, mine included. It was pretty eye-opening, and not a little demoralizing. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that the best way to approach a workshop is not to go in thinking that your essay or story is good. I made the mistake of thinking that mine was pretty solid. I’m not saying that it wasn’t solid, but of course, everything can be improved. It was just that there was a lot of negative feedback from a professor who has been, until now, very positive and upbeat. It was a bit of a shock.
That night I came home feeling a bit beaten down. The next morning when I went to my fiction workshop, the feeling had carried over. My story wasn’t being workshopped, but three stories were discussed with brutal honesty. When dissenting opinions came up, some of my classmates were quite vehement in denying their plausibility.
In general, getting honest feedback about a story is great, I mean, that’s what you want, right? To improve your writing, you need to know what’s wrong with it. But having those two workshops back to back left me feeling kind of down. For some reason, it hit me then: That I had two years of this kind of stuff to work through. Two years of writing and re-writing, revising, discussing and re-writing again.
Of course, I thought about all that when I chose to go back to school. But it just hit me last week, the reality of it.
This week, I am back to feeling good about writing and two years of workshops. And, after this morning, I am still feeling good, despite all the feedback. I realized it’s not the negative feedback or even the positive feedback that is overwhelming. It’s getting 12 voices worth of feedback in both written and oral form, and knowing that somehow you’ve got to process it all, and dive into your story again and again, using what you’ve learned to revise it and make it better. That’s how you get to be a better writer.
It’s not easy.