I haven’t talked about my writing course a lot this year, just in my post I’m Not Good Enough, where I realised that I was going to need to toughen up if I wanted to improve. I knew going into the course that I was going to receive constructive criticism. The main reason I decided to do the course was so that I could become a better writer, which involves being open to receiving feedback, what I didn’t anticipate was how the feedback was going to affect me. As I described in the post, I was emotionally shattered by the critique and annoyed at myself for reacting this way.
From that day forward my confidence in my writing went downhill drastically and I found myself over analysing every single word I wrote for my assignments. While I was still enjoying the course and learning a lot, I dreaded homework and found myself spending hours going over every piece with a fine tooth comb looking for things to fix. I worked some of my pieces to death and writing stopped being fun.
It wasn’t a good feeling. It’s part of the reason I’ve been blogging only once a week for most of this year, even though my blog writing and fiction writing styles are completely different. Blogging is easier. For me it’s like a journal and you can’t really have rules for a journal. ‘Show don’t tell’ doesn’t dominate my every sentence during blogging which definitely makes it a less daunting task, but I still let it be affected.
Yesterdays class was one I’d been particularly dreading. We’d started taking turns to be workshopped and yesterday was my turn. Each week, one person had to send through around 5-10 pages of their writing and have it critiqued by the rest of the class. The point of the workshop was for everyone. It was to teach us how to look at others work objectively and offer helpful feedback and for the person who’s piece was under scrutiny it was a chance to see it from potential audiences eyes, to learn what was working and what wasn’t. Something I’ve learned from all these sessions is that all of us struggled with similar aspects of our writing and while we could see room for improvement in others writing it was often hard for us to see the same ‘issues’ in our own work.
I’ve been trying to write a book for a while now. Well, for as long as I can remember, but for a number of years now there is a particular story I’ve had in mind that I just keep going back to. It’s had lots of chapter ones, each started with a flash of inspiration only to be rubbished not long after because it just wasn’t working. I know exactly what the story is about and how it is going to go, I’ve just had difficulty getting it out of my head. What I needed was feedback, but I was too scared to get it. I didn’t want anyone to read it and yet I wanted to finish it and maybe even get published. I was afraid of people opinions. I wanted it to be ‘perfect’ before people read it, the irony being that to make it ‘perfect,’ I needed critiques.
I decided my workshop was the time to get this story out instantly started freaking out. First, I had to write a chapter that I wasn’t going to bin right away and as with every other draft I’d attempted, it just wouldn’t write itself. I decided the best way to do it was not to go over it too much but just to get it out and let my classmates make the suggestions. When I write I have a tendency to edit as I go, which is a bad habit and I often end up spending ages reading and changing one paragraph only to delete it when I finally get around to finishing the story. So I just wrote and if I felt like editing I’d put the laptop down and walk away. This was incredibly difficult and I did cheat a couple of times, but I managed to finish the piece without too much fuss and while I wasn’t happy with it, I sent it off on Tuesday.
The rest of the week it was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to rewrite it, but it was too late. I’d hit the send button and now all I could do was wait. I waited nervously, getting more fearful every day until yesterday morning when I was freaking out so much that I didn’t want to go to class. Anxiety exacerbated my feelings, however based on discussions with my classmates after their own workshops, I think it’s also pretty normal to feel nervous about these sorts of things.
Anxiety and I fought yesterday. It told me to procrastinate getting up, to take a longer shower, to sit on the couch instead of getting dressed. It was in my ear telling me not to go to course at all. I let it win with the first three, but ultimately I had to face my fear and go. Plus if I hadn’t they would have emailed me the critiques anyway so there was no point in not going.
I spent the first half of class a nervous wreck, trying to join in with the subject we were discussing, but mostly worrying. When the workshop finally began I got my notebook out, determined to listen, take notes and to NOT FREAK OUT. And as with most events that anxiety has worked me up about, it was better than expected. In fact, I enjoyed it. For starters, everyone liked my chapter (which surprised me as it was a pretty raw and emotional subject I’d written about), but the suggestions I received were fantastic. I wasn’t allowed to talk while the feedback was being given and there was also a group discussion afterwards that I couldn’t join in on, but at the end I was able to thank everyone and agree with much of what they had said. I was smiling.
Looking back, I realise that I wasn’t so much anxious about the feedback, but how I would react to it, based on my freak out after the first time I read out a piece in class. I realise that I must have grown enough in the past few months to take feedback for what it is, opportunities for improvement as opposed to personal attacks. I’m now really looking forward to taking what everyone has suggested and making this story work. Who knows, I might even be able to finally finish it which would definitely be a dream come true.
Smiles and Sunshine