Well, we workshopped my poetry in class on Thursday. I was incredibly busy at work all day, even working a little late into the evening, so I didn’t have time to get nervous until I actually walked into class. Then it definitely hit me – we were going to be critiquing my work. I could see that people had written lots of notes on their copies of my poems. One of the things we’re supposed to do is write notes as we’re reading before class, and then, after workshop is over, hand them to the author. That way, the author gets to read a lot of first impressions, questions, comments, etc. about their work.
Only one guy and I were reading. After an abortive game of rock-paper-scissors, we decided that I would go first. Our teacher suggested that, before we began the discussion, I should read one of my poems. I asked for requests, and it was almost unanimous that I should read “Paris, je t’aime.” Of course they would pick the one with all of the French words I’d have to pronounce. I tried to read slowly but with vigor, and the actress side of me made it a little bit of a performance. Of course.
Anyway, we launched into discussion about that poem, and then we talked about several others. Late into the discussion, I also read “Freshman Year, University of Arkansas, 1995 – 1996.” The general consensus seems to have been:
- The poems weren’t terrible (hey, surprise!)
- I have a knack for narrative
- I could use more imagery in my writing, and perhaps should try some metaphor exercises
- “Paris, je t’aime” was funny, and I should try writing more comedy
- The poems that were lists of things were strong and kept me away from focusing so strongly on narrative
- I should use what I’ve learned about poetry and apply it to my prose
One classmate asked whether I had written a play (my answer: “I’ve taken playwriting. Those are two very different things!”) and suggested I should definitely give it a try. A few others like the specific details of “Freshman Year…” and thought I should get more detailed in description in other works. The criticism was very constructive and gave me a lot to think about. No one ever got nasty or hurtful in their comments, and that was such a relief to me.
Overall, I think the workshop experience was extremely helpful. I was genuinely surprised at the positive response to my poetry. I’m not being modest here; I figured it was decent but not very good, and a lot of these people have been writing poetry for a long time. When I got home, I poured over the comments that people had made on their paper copies. Some were a little more direct on paper than face-to-face, which is understandable. Still, having that record of people’s impressions will be incredibly valuable when I revisit these poems or write new ones. And yes, I think I’ll continue to write poetry from time to time, so that I can become more comfortable with making my writing more lyrical.
After we finished with my poems, we went on to the other guy reading that night. His poetry is almost the polar opposite of what I’d written, like comparing a three-minute pop song (me) with free jazz (him). It felt good to be able to relax since the pressure was off of me, and I was able to contribute somewhat coherently to the discussion of his pieces.
We saved the last thirty or so minutes of the class to introduce topics about fiction, which is what we will start covering next class. Simply listening to the topics that we’re going to cover got me thinking about the novel I’ve already finished(ish) and the one I’m going to start next Sunday (eek!). While I’ve always thought of myself as smart and well-read, someone who reads and understands everything from literary classics to supermarket trash, I realized in class how little I actually knew or remembered about the fundamentals and history of what is supposed to be my writing focus. And yes, I realize that’s why I’m in this class, and, on a much larger scale, why I’m doing CAMP. I just really wish I’d done this whole learning-how-to-write thing sooner, because now I feel like I have a lot to catch up on.
Despite how daunting all of this seems, I’m very excited for us to start working on fiction, and I have a couple of shorter, fiction-only classes coming up really soon that will help supplement what I’m learning in my Intro to CW class.
So, where does this leave me in terms of my own writing? Frankly, I’m now a little intimidated about the whole thing. The main takeaway from workshop – for me and my neuroses, anyway – is that I need to inject more poetry into my prose. It makes sense. I’m so worried about my writing sounding like I’m sitting around with a thesaurus and a copy of Pride and Prejudice or whatever. It’s a freaking teen novel, for crying out loud. But that doesn’t mean the writing can’t be evocative, right? So I’ve started going through it and throwing in a few well-placed metaphors and focusing on description. And it’s true – for the most part, my writing lacks those things. I am hoping to find a good balance of pretty language without veering into overblown prose.
I think another takeaway is that maybe I need to be more confident about my abilities. It’s so tough for me to feel like I’m good at something creative (which, I realize, is patently ridiculous; I’ve been a creative person my entire life). It’s not like being good at math, or handling customers, or whatever. That’s normal and accepted. But admitting that you’re good at something creative, like singing, acting, or writing, can quickly veer into pretension. I mean, it’s kind weird to say “oh, I’m working on my novel,” or “I’m a writer” or whatever, because I don’t want to sound like an asshole. I mean, I still have a regular job and everything. Plus, it’s not like I’ve ever been published. I have no proof that anything I’ve written is any good… except maybe some of the poems I just workshopped. Because I don’t think my classmates were lying when they said they enjoyed them. And, well, two friends told me they liked drafts of my novel, so that definitely has to count for something.
So I’m going to try to do better about feeling like I’m good at what I do.
And friends, thanks for sticking through all of this focus on writing. I promise music reviews or fart jokes or pictures of my dog soon.