So I had the second meeting of the writing workshop/class/group/thingy, last night. I’ve been really looking forward to it and I’m glad I’m doing it, but I’ve been in for a few surprises.
Last week, we met at the leader’s beautiful house in San Francisco where we chatted amongst our selves for a little while, waiting for everyone to arrive and settle in and then the group leader gave us copies of some pages from a book she had. After she passed the pages around to everyone she began to read selected sections of them out loud to us. Following along with her and trying to keep up, I wasn’t able to read them myself and I wasn’t able to fully process what they were saying and what I took away from the endeavor was:
“Secrets are lies and lies are truth and truth comes out in writing in the form or your secrets.”
Or something like that.
Then she told us to take a few minutes and write about a secret.
I really didn’t know what to make of that. I’ve already told the biggest secret I was keeping.
Before we left for the night we selected which weeks we were going to have our stuff read and critiqued by the group.
Over the last week, I received writing samples from three of the people in the group and was expected to read and critique each sample. I didn’t really know what that meant, exactly, and as I mentioned yesterday, I found that harder than I imagined I would.
I received a chapter from a memoir which was competently written with lots of descriptive imagery and scenery and even showed a bit of growth in the person the memoir is about, but ultimately was just a piece of a larger work. I wasn’t personally interested in the location and history of the place in which the story happens. The feeling and sentiment of the character is moving, but not overly compelling to me. I marked a few typos here and there, indicated an analogy I really liked, but mostly had very few comments to make.
I received a short story, 15 pages, the first half of which I really enjoyed. Beautiful locale, really well written, with just a couple of stumbling points in my mind, but then halfway through I felt like the story fell apart and she rushed the second half entirely. Again, I marked some typos, made a few notes and comments, but for the most part, I wasn’t engaged in the story.
Then I received two pieces from the third person. An 8-page short story that was whipped out in one morning, because she hadn’t expected to have to submit so early and it just played out that way. Given that she wrote it in a couple of hours and sent it out with not much editing, it was really good. Well written and executed. And sad, depressing subject matter. The rest of her pages were an excerpt from an early stages novel in progress. There wasn’t much to glean from that in my opinion because it seemed to come from somewhere in the middle of the book and didn’t cover much. There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t grab my attention.
But what really had me worried was when we got to class and the rest of the group started giving their critiques. We sat in the circle and started with one person, going around the room, each of us taking a turn giving our feedback. We have a four-minute limit and when that time is up we move on. I listened as each person started commenting on the imagery and the symbolism and the subtext and so on and so forth and I thought, “well, shit, I didn’t see any of that. I wasn’t even looking for that.” I don’t think like that. I don’t go looking for those things. If they jump off the page at me, fine, but most of the time I see just what the words say and not much more. So I didn’t need my full four minutes and I didn’t have much to say and I felt like I wasn’t pulling my weight. And then I felt like a fraud because when it was my turn to talk, I found myself saying things like, “I really like this story” (I didn’t), “This was beautifully written” (sometimes true, sometimes not. I mean we’re all competent writers or we wouldn’t be there, but some of the pieces weren’t exactly exceptional). And then I was trying to give my feedback on the things that I saw that needed work and I was so afraid of saying something wrong that will come across as mean-spirited, when it’s really just an observation, an opportunity for improvement or clarification.
I drove home seriously worried about next week. I am one of the three people who signed up to submit pages for the next session. I’ll be submitting chapters 3 & 4 of The Teacher. They happen to add up to exactly 25 pages, wich is convenient, but also, Chapter 1 has been posted on this blog and read by several people with lots of commentary. It’s pretty polished. Chapter 2 was given to two people and both had encouraging positive things to say. So it only stands to reason that I would move on to Chapters 3 & 4. But I found myself worried. What if I’m the one person in the room who doesn’t write flowery, symbolic, laced with subtext, deep, meaningful stuff? What if they all come back next week and tell me that my chapters are vapid and meaningless, with no substance and nothing to pull you in? What if I just look like an idiot because I’m not an abstract thinker and that’s what this calls for?
Okay, let’s be honest here. I know I’m a decent writer. With the occasional lapse in proper comma use (or is it coma? – See, I’m screwed!) I’m pretty technically proficient. Spell check is my best friend, unless I’m spelling the wrong word the right way (see coma/comma) in which case it’s of no use to me whatsoever. But I’m also pretty straight forward and literal. I’ve never been an abstract person. Suddenly, I feel like a kid wearing his daddy’s clothes in the middle of a grown up party.
I know everyone will be nice. And the truth is, people who look for those kinds of hidden, deeper meanings, will probably find them even if they’re not really there. And all I have to do is sit quietly scribbling notes and nodding my head reverently. Try not to roll my eyes and, please God!, don’t let me blush. (That’s a pipe dream.)
I want the feedback and I know I’ll gain something from it. I just don’t want to feel like too much of a fool.
I’m so in over my head.