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