Your writing workshop (mis)adventures

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That teacher sounds like an ass. You could probably fight your way in if you wanted to by going to someone in administration, but it hardly seems worth it.

Most workshops that I have been in, a couple for fiction and a fuckload for poetry, were NOT exercises in homogenization, fwiw.

I nearly collapsed the first time I had to a read poem in class. I vaguely recall having to start the poem with the cliche/soap opera title "as the world turns." And somehow I got to talking about a buffalo. The only experience that came close to matching that was reading my "scrambled porn" poem in workshop. Classmate: "I don't understand why he doesn't just jack-off." I think I was blushing so thoroughly that blood was leaking out of my ears.

bnw (bnw), Monday, 12 April 2004 22:55 (fifteen years ago) link

Well, I went to a crappy school, so the profs tended to be frustrated.

Ann Sterzinger (Ann Sterzinger), Tuesday, 13 April 2004 03:53 (fifteen years ago) link

Well I got in, and unsurprisingly I'm settling into a can't be bothered attitude already.

The guy has hip hop on the reading list, but he strikes me as having Otherized it as some sort of fetishistic oooh looka tha I'm relevent kind of deal.

But I want to hear more of yall's horror stories!

Leee O'Gaddy (Leee), Tuesday, 13 April 2004 16:55 (fifteen years ago) link

I took so many workshops at berkeley i can't remember anything except the playboy girl story which Leee's already heard. Also, I just found out that one of my professors died a year ago (Michaels), sad. He was notoriously hard on students' writing but I learned more from him than anyone else. I don't think he appreciated the short story I wrote that mocked all his early work though (maybe he did).

anthony kyle monday (akmonday), Tuesday, 13 April 2004 18:31 (fifteen years ago) link

I once called a classmate's poem "too much like a felicity episode"... probably my meanest ever workshop comment.

bnw (bnw), Tuesday, 13 April 2004 19:13 (fifteen years ago) link

I went ballistic on a guy who wrote a cliched holocaust story for writing all the german characters' dialogue with broken english and accents, AS THOUGH THEY WOULD BE SPEAKING ENGLISH IN NAZI GERMANY.

His next story was really good though.

anthony kyle monday (akmonday), Tuesday, 13 April 2004 20:27 (fifteen years ago) link

One guy, in our short story workshop, submitted Aesop Rock's "Lucy."

Leee O'Gaddy (Leee), Tuesday, 13 April 2004 21:47 (fifteen years ago) link

I was in a writing group once where one of the guys submitted a story containing a reference to a "petite window looking out on the moonlit garden". His excuse was that he had already used the words "little" and "small" in the story and he didn't want to repeat himself too much.

I didn't stay in that group very long.

accentmonkey (accentmonkey), Wednesday, 14 April 2004 15:46 (fifteen years ago) link

I went to a creative writing workshop, one of the students had Tourettes Syndrome ( I think) every time someone did a reading of their work, she would jump up and shout " FUCKING CRAP, FUCKING CRAP, FUCKING CRAP" very very loudly. It was FANTASTIC.

kath (kath), Sunday, 18 April 2004 01:19 (fifteen years ago) link

too much like a felicity episode

bnw, I would have been pleased if I was that classmate.

Mary (Mary), Monday, 19 April 2004 02:00 (fifteen years ago) link

I went to a creative writing workshop, one of the students had Tourettes Syndrome ( I think) every time someone did a reading of their work, she would jump up and shout " FUCKING CRAP, FUCKING CRAP, FUCKING CRAP" very very loudly. It was FANTASTIC.

Sounds like the perfect cover for saying what you feel about a work in these classes.

Girolamo Savonarola, Monday, 19 April 2004 03:58 (fifteen years ago) link

yes I suspected the tourettes was selective and intermittent!

kath (kath), Monday, 19 April 2004 22:04 (fifteen years ago) link

six years pass...

so I went on a long hiatus from creative writing from 2006 til the present, and I am just now getting back into it and realizing how miserable the creative writing scene is. fucking A. everyone sucks each other's dick and then there's websites like zoetrope where all the concrit is just legit ridiculous that I can't even take it seriously. does one have to be a douchebag these days to be a successful writer? [nabisco] to thread.

homosexual II, Friday, 23 July 2010 22:17 (nine years ago) link

Wow, it sounds just like the "avant-garde" film world!

European Bob (admrl), Friday, 23 July 2010 22:19 (nine years ago) link

well, i am angry because I posted a story on zoetrope and the criticism I got were just... stupid. Just dumb. This is why I hate writer's workshops. Like, all the classic writing 101 crap is dragged out and dropped on me like I haven't heard that shit before. At the end, the woman's final comment was; "SO WAIT, WAS THAT A METAPHOR FOR DEATH? IF SO, IT WASN'T CLEAR."

I deleted it. Why waste any more time...

homosexual II, Friday, 23 July 2010 22:23 (nine years ago) link

ha can we get some more of that? i signed up for zoetrope once but the effort of crit was so much i never posted anything

i sent a thing to a friend recently and got some fairly 101 stuff but it was helpful because i realised the story was actually a typical freitag's-triangle rising tension thing, which i actually hadn't before because it had ended up that way through an accident of rearranging sections

thomp, Friday, 23 July 2010 22:29 (nine years ago) link

I know some people who are both successful and awesome, so no, I don't think being a douchebag is necessarily a requirement.

I don't know much about how the Zoetrope thing works. But I do think getting your stuff workshopped by people you don't have a workshop (or friend) "relationship" with is sorta ... not-optimal, and if you're going to do it you have to be really mentally clear with yourself about what you're looking for.

When I say a workshop "relationship" I mean stuff like: a group of people you communicate with regularly, people who either know you or can get to know your writing, people where you read one another reciprocally and talk and figure out where you're all coming from -- the stuff that makes a workshop a productive and understanding group thing, instead of just drive-by commentary. It's like the difference between asking your friends for fashion advice and asking everyone in line at McDonald's.

So when I say "you have to be really mentally clear," I mean ... you'd have to be confident in what you're trying to achieve, and you'd have to be confident about weighing responses. For instance, if you asked everyone at McDonald's how you could dress better, and an Amish guy was like "wear linen!" and a mean old lady was like "cover your ankles, trollop!" and some rich people were like "you'd look great in this $8,000 sweater," you would know how much stock to put in each of these.

Sometimes it's helpful to think of responses less as "advice" or "criticism" and more like just a random sampling of how readers might react to what you've written. It says nothing about what your work should be like -- it's just a good way of learning how it'll come across. If you write something you think is funny, and only 1 out of 10 readers thinks it's funny, that doesn't necessarily mean you failed -- maybe being hilarious to an audience that "gets it" was roughly your goal! This is why you have to be clear on your goals before you get started: otherwise "90% of readers didn't think I was funny" will gnaw at you. But you'll never get 90% of readers to think anything is funny -- you're not trying to write something the entire universe will like. Most responses to Joyce would tell you it's nonsense; most responses to Twilight would tell you it's hokey. The best you can do is use that feedback to decide, like: is this coming across the way I thought it would and intended it to? Could I make it appeal to a few more people without changing what I really want it to do? If so, is that worth it? If I cover my ankles for the mean old lady, will I lose the attention of the woman who thinks I should show a little leg? If I make this metaphor clear to even the dimmest reader, won't the clever reader start feeling like I'm bashing her over the head with it?

Like really, don't think of it as a critique -- think of it like research. I don't know about you, but once I've spent enough time writing something, I'm not so sure how certain things will come across: pacing, "this section is less interesting than you think," "this change you thought you built up to actually comes out of nowhere," "you didn't have to spend 3 pages explaining this, we already knew" -- all that stuff can be helpful, for me anyway. And they're especially good for practice, like things about audience-response you can learn and internalize and then sit down to really do your thing.

oɔsıqɐu (nabisco), Saturday, 24 July 2010 00:36 (nine years ago) link

Haha also I skipped over the big thing: if you're getting critiques someplace that are all totally useless, then yes, screw that, right? You're better off getting a read from a friend who doesn't even read books -- at least they'll talk with you about what it felt like to read it -- than getting rote drive-by critiques from people who aren't even really engaging with what you wrote.

oɔsıqɐu (nabisco), Saturday, 24 July 2010 00:46 (nine years ago) link

my suggestion/my two cents: see if you can find a place to take a writing workshop nearby. even if the class sucks, you may meet some people who you can start your own workshop with.

Mr. Que, Saturday, 24 July 2010 00:59 (nine years ago) link

kate, whether that workshop will work for you will depend on what you need from it vs. what you get from it.

You'll pretty quickly sort out which members of the group have any kind of clue how to write an effective piece of their own, whether poem or story. That's a clue. More importantly, you'll discover which ones seem able to give your work a fresh hearing and honest reactions. If nobody there knows how to listen to or read anyone but themselves, or if they consistently try to remake you into an image of themselves, then they'll be next to useless.

If you are extremely lucky, then someone in the group will be able to see what your intentions are in a piece, then speak with insight about where your technique succeeds in delivering on those intentions and where it fails. That's the gold standard. You rarely get that, though.

P.S. Obv, try to do for others what you would like them to do for you.

Aimless, Sunday, 25 July 2010 15:48 (nine years ago) link

nine years pass...

Writing-wise, most ridiculous moment of decade was as writer-guest for a workshop held at someone's house. During the workshop, I got a massive headache & asked for aspirin. A woman gave me aspirin after which I began to itch. "Sorry--gave u my anti-itching pills by mistake." 1/?

— Jeff VanderMeer (@jeffvandermeer) December 28, 2019

mookieproof, Saturday, 28 December 2019 17:55 (one month ago) link

The hell is up with writers

Swilling Ambergris, Esq. (silby), Saturday, 28 December 2019 17:59 (one month ago) link

I once went to a workshop, held at a university, where a participant appeared for critique naked from the waist up and then stormed out of the because nobody was taking them seriously.

rb (soda), Monday, 30 December 2019 00:23 (one month ago) link


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