Sunday, September 10, 2006


Workshop is a verb. You knew that. As in people workshop a story or poem or chunk of a novel. Who does this? And why?

You've got the sensitive, thin skin of an artist and you think you need toughening. You have a manuscript that you secretly think is the best piece of fiction ever written and you're dying for someone else to read it and comment (oh, oh, sounds like a blog). So you sign up for a workshop. This will answer both requirements. Believe me. You'll discover that you've written something for which the highest and best use is lining the kitty box, and in the process of this discovery, you'll develop, well, not thick skin, exactly, but the kind of calluses that protect against blisters on the feet by supplanting their supperating agony with a material as impervious as leather.

So, knowing all this--and being certain I haven't written the best piece of fiction since, um, Cloud Atlas--why have I signed up for a six week workshop? You think I am going to provide an answer here? You think I have an answer?

Plus (there's always a plus, I find) you get to read the work in process of other people, strangers, you hope. I hope, at any rate, and therein lies a short tale.

At the first meeting of this workshop last Wednesday, we all introduced ourselves. A pleasant group of five women and two men, one of whom is the leader, the prof, a published award-winning author. We hear each other's names, mostly first names, but surnames in a couple of cases. I expect unfamiliarity and that is what I get. Watch out for those expectations.

I don't do well in groups. I took a year or so of group therapy during a crisis in my earlier life to learn to do better, but still, acute self-consciousness grips me. People react in two ways to this affliction, I've noticed. One is the person who will shrink back into her seat and try to become invisible. I've done that, but in general now, after much experience, I tend toward the opposite pole: I act out. I talk, that is. Although I've known for years this is grossly stupid, it still happens.

So I have absolutely no idea what I said at the little meet-and-greet after introductions to each other and the workshop rules is over. I know I spoke to various people. I know what I said was lame (unfortunately, this is a given). I felt that I had misspoken, somehow (also often a given). To complicate matters further, my brain often takes a break in the proximity of food. There are cookies within arms length, C-o-o-k-i-e-s. Huh? You asked me something? My name? Date of birth? Sorry. (Munch.)

Ah, well.

When I got home, I was recounting the evening to my husband when, in putting together and speaking out loud the first and last names of the woman I'd been sitting beside I realized that it was the wife of a very prominent public official, coincidentally one I voted for and support and actually admire. She was the one I felt I had most misspoken to, as well. And this week, we are to critique her MS, a book for young adults (a genre with which I have less than zero familiarity, since it didn't exist when I was one).

So why am I taking this workshop?


  1. The thing I always think is that actually, most people find a first meeting in a group hard. My only trick is to smile; it’s hard to ignore a smile, and it usually gets one back. It is doubly hard that people are going to be critiquing your baby but they won’t be thinking about what you said nearly as much as you are; they will all be thinking about themselves. It is human nature so stop kicking yourself.

    I am anyway sure it wasn’t as bad as you think. Try not to take that critical voice into the next workshop, the one you are criticising yourself with I mean, be thoughtful about the comments you make about her writing, because that is what she will remember!

    It is such an achievement to write a book, that you are happy with it is the main thing. A friend of mine took her play to a workshop and someone made some really mad comments about it, really not getting it at all, luckily the playwright running the course took her under his wing and the play got better. Getting it put on is another matter …

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