Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nothing personal

Yesterday was my turn to be "workshopped" in class and I turned in a 10-page piece about my relationship with my high school boyfriend, Thom, and, later, my friendship with his college roommate, Andrew. Writing it brought up all this emotion in me -- protective feelings about myself at that age, maternal feelings for Thom and Andrew and (considering that both of them were using herion on a regular basis) a lot of worry and fear. I ended the piece by writing about running into Andrew a couple of years ago and then imagining an encounter with my own future child.

The piece has problems, I know, namely because the beginning and ending don't fit. It was my hope that the workshop would offer a chance for some constructive criticism and encouragement and that I would walk away with a better sense of what needs work.

Instead, it was all I could do not to cry while a couple of people were talking. I know, I know, I shouldn't care, I should pick and choose, I should block it out. But. These are some of the written comments I received:

1. "You have alot (sic) of good dialogue and descriptions here. However, I can't physically see them. I am also confused as to why you care about them or why they are important to you. There are other parts where I don't understand your motivations" -- Jason

2. "Try to avoid being too porno-y (no OFFENSE at all -- just thought you might think about it...the resemblance of this description to a bad romance novel...?)...It's over the top and kind of abrupt, you need to explain it better...He doesn't sound that bad, if that's what you're going for with this description. I SMOKE CAMEL LIGHTS TOO. This is so superficial. Your personality is random. Your judgmental tone is jarring, your voice is a bit harsh and unsympathetic (I have the same problem with being blunt, but--) and it's all cliche sounding. And that title -- HUH? Thanks" -- Juliet

My teacher wrote "Full of good writing and some of the best lines of descriptions I've yet seen from you. As usual, by not paraphrasing you're losing opportunities for development, characterization, observaiton..."

I want to reiterate that I was not looking for everyone to love it. Maybe I'm crazy but I found some of the comments people made to be completely unconstructive. It's my goal to leave a workshop wanting to do more work on the piece, feeling interested and enthused...and yesterday, I walked out of class and started crying. I felt like it was a huge mistake to share something about which I have such raw feelings; it makes me vulnerable and I couldn't help but that what they said personally. A mistake, I know I should know that by now. It's not personal.


Anonymous suz said...

oh, sarah. i've been there. my favorite is the "your judgemental tone is jarring...thanks." thanks??? reminds me of the time my brother photocopied a whole series of email correspondences he'd had with my father about dysfunctional communication (uh, yeah) and then passed them out to the whole family, without my father's knowledge, at a family therapy session so that the rest of us could understand how fucked up we all truly were. at the end of every heated f--you email exchange, both my father and brother would always write: "love, dad" or "love, ray," as in: "you ruined my life. love, ray." "your so judgemental. thanks, juliet." anyway, sorry for the's been a long week. at least you're more than half way done with that workshop. i hope you have at least one more chance to really write some porn, though.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Claire said...

Regardless of your personal attachments to the piece, the comments are shitty and the workshop was shitty and certain-writers-who-will-not-be-named might just be defensive b/c their lifestyles mirror those of the characters in your piece.....oh, right, or they write comments when they're high. I think it might be the latter.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Urban Barbara said...

I stopped going to writing class because the comments were too personal about the content (me) and not the work.
I found my writing getting worse in class trying to please the class rather than realize most of them were not my audience and couldn't grasp what i was writing about.

now i sought out a few people i trust to give me comments--they don't coddle me but they are constructive.

you may try also using your blog as a forum and see what comments you get

6:52 AM  
Blogger BattleCat said...

"Nothing personal" Riiight, If some one is giving criticism about your personal work they are, at the very least, giving their own personal views, which are limited by their own closed minds; that are boxed up in "the way it should be"
The trick is: to pay attention to feedback that gives suggestions about your work that inspires you to make your work more complete. Listening to hacks who tear down things they don't like in other's work is just lowering yourself to their low level of non-perceptive or imaginative quality of work. Then again, I'm biased. I used a little of your style I culled from your blogs to improve to my crappy use of the English language.

1:31 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I love these comments! I know it's only a blog but it makes my day to feel that I'm not writing into an empty void. And you're all so funny, too...

I also realized that I've been going to writing workshops for something like twelve years and maybe it's time to give it a rest. The best part about them is their not self-imposed deadlines and, of course, being in the company of writers who laugh out loud and can't not tell the truth.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous camille said...

benjamin's mother had this sort of flow chart for criticism

1) is it true? if not, ignore. if yes, see #2
2) is it bad? if no, ignore. if yes, see #3
3) can you change it?

there might be more, but i cannot recall.

9:50 PM  

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