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Five Stages of Workshop Recovery - Writing MFA, Hopes and Hopefuls [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Writing MFA, Hopes and Hopefuls

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Five Stages of Workshop Recovery [Feb. 6th, 2008|03:47 pm]
Writing MFA, Hopes and Hopefuls

writingmfa

[zenithblue]
You know how there's supposed to be five stages of grief? Lately I've been thinking about my inevitable reactions to workshopping my fiction and it occurs to me that there's something of an analogy, that you have to process through different emotional reactions before you can get anything useful out of a workshop. I don't know if this will be useful to anybody here but I sure do need to be reminded of this stuff from time to time. Does it jibe with your experience? Do you go through different stages? Or are you a perfectly balanced workshopping machine?

1. Defense: This one usually happens during the workshop proper, where your reactions to every criticism leveraged at your work are a set of  knee-jerk protests. "But that's not what that meant...but you don't understand...but you're reading it wrong..." and so on. An emotional desire to stave off perceived attack (and possibly a temporary inability to differentiate between your text and your person). The best way to survive this is to keep your mouth shut so you don't sound like a defensive whiner. This feeling may be an inevitable part of the process, but that doesn't mean it's attractive.

2. Despair: After you're done feeling self-protective, you succumb to a (hopefully temporary) belief that everything negative said about your work is true, that every criticism and complaint has equal weight, and that the task of revising and editing is so insurmountable you may as well sit in the corner of your office running the edge of your manuscript back and forth across your wrists in the hope that you may hit a vein, rather than attempt to salvage this decrepit piece of shit you inflicted upon your  intelligent classmates. You in fact hypervalue any negative input over positive statements in this stage.

3. Defiance: Suddenly, going over the workshop in your mind, you realize how many insensitive, prescriptive, or flat out stupid things were said about your work. You dwell on the two or three absolutely foolish remarks that inevitably come up in the course of the workshop, and manage to generalize these gems of stupidity, dwelling now on the insipid and thoughtless. You begin to suspect you have cast your pearls before swine, that your first impulse was correct: they didn't get it! This stage may involve listening to Irish punk music on repeat or pacing your house delivering a swear-laden philippic at the imaginary presence of your detractors.

4. Epiphany: You suddenly remember two things. One is that you wouldn't have taken the story to workshop if you thought it perfect. The other is that you, yourself, have your own aesthetic tastes and readerly concerns and textual philosophies to apply to the workshop feedback. In other words, you recall that you get to filter all this feedback through and towards your own goals.

5. Recuperation: You approach the feedback from a new and more balanced standpoint, remembering that you cannot denigrate your own tastes and concerns just because they don't match someone else's. You realize that, even if you ignore the prescriptive comments or the less helpful suggestions, these same comments point out how certain readers will approach the text. Sometimes this will give you an idea how to change your work; sometimes you'll be liberated to ignore their feedback entirely. You integrate the feedback that seems most conducive to the story you want to write, and take the feedback that seems to come from a place of taste or temperament with a grain of salt. The most important thing to remember is that if everyone in the room likes your story, you're doing something wrong. Writing is not a democracy. No one can tell you what to write or how to write; all they can tell you is how they read it. This isn't information to be taken lightly, but it's not information that should undermine your own sensibilities.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: no_no_
2008-02-08 11:17 pm (UTC)
I've personally never had any bad reactions to workshop feedback. Feedback is opinion, afterall, and not everyone is going like or understand what you've written. I weed through my comments--take what I find useful to my story and style and disregard the rest. There really are no rules to writing. Keep that in mind.
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[User Picture]From: zenithblue
2008-02-08 11:27 pm (UTC)
Oh certainly...I agree that's how one *should* take workshop. But for me, at least, this is the process by which I have to get there...but maybe I'm temperamental.
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[User Picture]From: pengoidal
2008-02-08 11:30 pm (UTC)
Usually going into it I'm nerves nerves nerves.

Then when it actually happens I'm very thoughtful and take notes like mad. If someone goes off about something I didn't intend then my note reflect that fact that I have to be clearer in that spot (although my mental note is that I have to be clearer so that some idiot doesn't go off on a tangent like that loser just did ... but those things we keep to ourselves).

Then afterwards I'm euphoric and motivated. I have all these new thoughts on my fiction where before workshop I only had my own thoughts to work with. I figure it can only get better.

Maybe I'm thick skinned. But I view my stories as more of a ball of knots that has to be worked out than a baby of mine. Or maybe they are babies. But I tend to think of them as ugly babies. Babies that I know need lots of cosmetic surgery if they want to grow up to be supermodels. I could just love them and tell them that it's what's inside that counts, that it's all about intent and conceptualization and self. But instead I'm shallow and follow up on that suggestion to whack off their third nipple. No one else will ever have to know it was there.
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[User Picture]From: elorie
2008-02-11 04:00 am (UTC)
It depends. Some of my writing I take more personally than the rest; workshopping those things is hard. The rest, I don't sweat it too much, and it's pretty easy for me to see when someone is just not getting it or when they are telling me something I need to know.
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