penetrate this

I have thick skin! Where did this come from?

I’ve been in writing workshops and writing classes on and off for years, and I think I have a pretty good grasp on what it’s all about. I like workshopping. I liked learning how to critique other people’s work, because it made me a better reader and writer. I like getting critiques, because it helped me learn that not everything I write is perfectly perfect, hard as that was–and still is–to admit. But I always felt a little stung when people would make comments. How can you not?

In 2005, Norma Fox Mazer wrote on one of her critiques for me something to the tune of, “You have a great talent for writing. When will you use it in a story that matters?” That haunts me so much, and it hurt my feelings, even though deep down I knew she was right. My stories didn’t really have points, partly because I always hated writing short fiction. They were just exercises. Well done or not, maybe, but that’s all they were most of the time. It’s taken me until nowish to really understand and attempt to correct that. I’m still not sure I have, but I think I’m getting there.

So at Friday discussion, we decided that three of us would send short stories to the group instead of doing a reading. Two of us are taking the intro to fiction writing class here (though we have different professors, sadly) and one just likes to write. Then on Friday we spent about four hours hanging out, eating brownies, and going over and critiquing them. I hated my story when I sent it to them. It was the one I had handed into my fiction TA earlier that week, and I had finished it kind of fast, because writing that sort of crappy draft was simpler than finishing one of the two much better stories I’m mapping out and planning. So when we started going over mine, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

It was casual but also still workshoppy, because my Friday group is full of the most intelligent (and still normal, fun, and really cool) students I’ve met at U of A. I got some really good feedback, better than I’ve gotten in any workshop since writing camp, probably, and also better than that, because the story was better than any I submitted at camp. It beat, in most ways, the feedback I got in my poetry workshop over the summer, except that in my poetry class I also had someone who had a master’s degree in poetry who could critique pretty harshly on craft if she wanted to. It was nice just flipping through, listening to people’s perceptions on things, and being allowed to talk to answer questions and discuss my story. It was like a halfway between workshopping and analyzing my story as if we had read it for an English class and we were taking it apart to look at theme, character development, etc. It was perfect.

Then I realized that even when they were criticizing or saying negative things, I really didn’t care. I mean, I cared, because I want to make the story better, and I noted things accordingly. But it was the first time ever that I felt a complete emotional detachment from the statements, which is so good. That’s what should happen. You should have a thick skin. I’m so pleased with myself.


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