Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Today was a huge day, writing-wise, because it was my first day of having my writing workshopped in my two major composition classes.

For Poetry & Fiction, we're required to submit our pieces the class day before our work is to be critiqued, and when I submitted mine on Thursday evening, I was pretty confident about what I was sending in. After all, it was just a continuation of what my classmates already liked. We weren't really encouraged to submit "past" work (though it's still a WIP), but we were allowed to if we so wished. I decided to turn in something I had already worked on because I don't write well on demand. I like to fine-tune things until I don't think they can be fine-tuned anymore.
So anyway, I turned this piece in and I was feeling good about it. I felt good about up until last night. Then I woke up this morning with butterflies. 'Why did I send that?' 'What if they hate it after they liked the other part?'
Of course, there was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. They'd already read it anyway, so my worries were moot. I walked into class very nervous, sat through the first person's presentation very nervously. Then it was my turn.

And... they liked it. They liked the dialogue and the pace and a good number of other things. Of course, it wasn't all rainbows and flowers- there was critisism. My teacher's pretty good at asking probing questions that get the class and the writer thinking. So after this, the class asked me a lot of good questions and gave me suggestions. And while it was technically "critical"... it was incredibly HELPFUL. Like, there was some stuff that really got me thinking and will cause some big tweaks to be put into not only the scene I gave, but the larger story. It was great.

So because of this success, I was excited to go to my Play & Screenwriting class. My first scene, a five minute piece, would be read and critiqued. I put in a ton of work into the piece- it took me about a week and a half to get the structure that I wanted and I was pretty proud of how it went. So I skipped off to class this evening and had my scene read second.
Almost as soon as it started to be read, I knew something was wrong. When did the pace get so slow? Why were there so many run-on sentences for the older character? And why was there so little conflict in the beginning of the scene?
But these were only the minor problems. The further we got into the reading, the more the tension grew in the air. Part of our workshopping is that we start off with something we liked and you could just feel people going, 'What on earth am I going to say about this?!'
It wasn't that it was terrible written. It wasn't. But I guess I was so focused on making that certain structure work that I forgot about other important stuff, namely characterization, and it was a glaring problem.
When we finally, blessedly reached the end, there was a long silence as people desperately tried to think of things to say that were complimentary. Thankfully, they actually tried and didn't resort to things like, "Well, the paper you used is certainly... white..." But there wasn't much to be said.
My piece was (nicely) torn to shreds. But it wasn't even the critiques they made- it was that the things they felt were going on- that the older character was this evil, evil woman and the younger character was this poor overworked girl and the main theme was that the latter felt overworked... that wasn't what I was going for at all. When I wrote it, I saw the older woman as a person who was covering up nerves through bossiness and I actually worried that the younger woman would come off as ridiculously shallow.

I read a quote recently that if there is any confusion as to what's going on in a book, play, or any piece of writing, it's always the writer's fault that the problem is present- the reader's just doing the best they can with what they're given. So I wasn't upset with my class for not understanding what I was going for, because I'll be the first to admit that it wasn't there.
But to be honest, I was still shocked at how badly the whole thing went. I had set mysef up for success, so excited from the afternoon that I honestly hadn't even considered failure. So when it came, it was ten times worse. I almost cried in the middle of class.

Now I'm a little overwhelmed. Not only do I have to have the rewrites for this awful scene, which is going to be painful and due in two weeks, but I have a ten-page scene due next week, a new fiction piece in two weeks, and other stuff to memorize for, like, yesterday.

Sometimes, the things you love can be the things that stress you out the most.

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