Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop, Part 2: The People Who Want You to Write Like Them

I once taught a creative workshop in a high school where there was a talented young senior I'll call Jules. Jules was all of seventeen but he could write up a storm. But being a teenager, he hadn’t figured out yet that the world would not fall apart if others wrote differently from the way he wrote. He loved fantasy and elaborate imaginary worlds. Jules could create them with great detail and humor. But if anyone else brought in a story that had a realistic basis in her or his life, say a story about a girl taking an airplane by herself for the first time, Jules would suggest tossing in an alien with a phaser, definitely a flying saucer, and maybe a little time travel to the thirty-first century. After a few weeks of this we all just good-naturedly cracked up when Jules made a suggestion, because the subtext of his comments was always, “Why don’t you write this the way I would, and not the way you would?” Jules represents an extreme end of the spectrum.
When you receive a comment in a writing workshop, one of the things that you do have to pay extremely close attention to is whether that person is asking you to write the way he or she would, rather than asking you to bring your own vision to its sharpest focus. But how do you tell the difference? You have to be as savvy as a Jane Austen heroine, sorting out who is the Mr. Darcy who really loves her for who she is, and who is the Mr. Wickham out to persuade her to join in with his own nefarious scheme. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary, and it can be fun, if you view it as a plot of its own.

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: 
Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

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