Suck It Up and Take It

By February 27, 2013Writing about Writing

I usually have no problem taking criticism. Well, not when it comes to my writing at least. I know the value of a workshop class and I like the fact that I am able to get feedback on my stories from fellow writers. One of the most important aspects of story writing is revision. I know all of this. My writing workshops might intimidate me a bit going into them, but that is more because of how much criticism is coming at me at once, not necessarily because I’m afraid of what they are going to say. I don’t consider myself above this process, but it was still surprising and upsetting to have my professor look at me after reading my most recent story and say, “I have no idea what you were trying to do with this.”

At first, I didn’t really think much of the comment, I just kept taking notes on feedback until my workshop was over and that was the end of that. But then, I kept thinking about the class and what he said… And then, I started going through my feedback… And then, my heart began to sink. This is a professor that I know and respect; a professor who, for every other story workshopped so far in class, has been able to find what the writer was trying to do with the story, even when no one else has.

I am well aware of the fact that this story was just a draft. That it is okay if they don’t get it now, that’s part of the point of a workshop. I was trying to do something different, and I can’t expect it to work the first time. I know. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t upsetting, and kind of soul crushing. I don’t necessarily like everything I write, not every idea I come up with is worth something. But I didn’t consider this to be one of those stories. It just wasn’t one that was easy to look at and say “Well, that was a fail” and shrug and everything will be okay.

It’s not like this is going to make me stop writing. Nothing has yet, and I have had one creative writing professor tell me I was in the wrong major. So, if anything is going to get me to walk away from it, it has to be a much worse experience. And I’m not walking around thinking that everyone in the workshop was wrong regarding their feedback. I know that they’re right, but right now I’m sitting at my desk looking between their feedback and my story and thinking “How the hell am I going to fix this?” Because right now, I have no idea, which has never happened to me before either. Revisions have always been easier for me than the first draft, but there are certain aspects of this story that I absolutely refuse to change so I honestly don’t know what to do.

I guess the point is that my own stubbornness is inhibiting the creative processes, which is not just a problem for me, but for anyone that considers themselves a writer. We creative writers, no matter how open we are to workshops, tend to be a pretentious bunch that only value the feedback of certain people, and tend to be pretty attached to certain aspects of our stories. Does our selectivity hold us back? Or does it, as we prefer to think, tend to keep our own writing more pure?

Getting as much feedback on a story as possible never hurts, but there still should be some selectivity as to whose feedback you follow and whose you ignore. If you take everyone’s advice your story will end up worse than it was when it started, so the trick is finding the advice that best first the story you are trying to write and where you want to take it. All I need to do now is suck it up and make the changes I need to make to write a better story.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Lauri Dietz says:

    Allegra–Thanks for sharing. Your post is great reminder that receiving feedback about your writing can even be challenging for those of us who spend much of our time advocating for the value of outside readers in the revision process. I think that as peer writing tutors, you can directly relate to the importance of compassion when we work with writers. All the more reason to take advantage of those opportunities to praise writers for engaging with the process of writing.

    Your post also reminds me of a recent keynote address given by Tom Angelo at the Lilly Conference on College Teaching. Angelo discussed how

    learning requires change;
    change requires risk;
    and risk requires trust.

    I think your post demonstrates your commitment to learning because of your willingness not only to take the risk to share your writing with others, but also to share the challenges with receiving feedback.

    Thanks!
    Lauri