Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writing workshop

I participated in a local writing workshop a few weeks ago. Many local writers and wanna-be-published-writers attended, manuscripts in hand. The purpose of the afternoon was to read each others' manuscripts and offer constructive criticism.

As a writing teacher, I am accustomed to reading and evaluating student writing. Some weeks I read and evaluate ninety-six papers. It is impossible for me to comment on every aspect of a paper so I usually make an overall comment about the manuscript's potential for the intended reader and identify three strengths and three areas for improvement.

At the workshop I was required to comment on far less work, but I approached it the same way. I mentioned the pieces' strengths and then a couple places for improvement. I was very aware that my comments were my opinion--although I do think my opinion is the right one--and the writer could heed them, or not. I wasn't even assigning a grade to the piece. I learned that commenting on someone's work, even with the best intentions, can create hurt feelings. Even when the comment seems innocuous to me.

I wanted to say,"Get a thicker skin or you'll never make it in the publishing world."

I didn't.

I've spent some time thinking about the situation. We writers need feedback if we are to make our writing better. However, it is easy to bristle at even the most benign suggestions.

To eliminate hurt feelings and make a feedback session valuable next time I'm going to ask participants to answer the following questions (suggested by Sheila Bender in "The Writer".
1. After listening to my draft, what words remain memorable?
2. What feelings do you experience from reading my essay that you think are intended?
3. What feelings do you have that interfere with the ones the essay is going for?
4. Where are you curious to know more?


Kathryn Neff Perry said...

These are great comments. I loved the one,"get thicker skin". My favorite comment was by Stephen King who said he drove a nail in the wall above his computer---to keep rejection slips. He had to replace the nail with a spike----I've learned so much from rejections---or just comments from other writers. I think my writing is much stronger now----
loved this post