My creative writing class is about to begin their first round of workshops. For those of you unacquainted with a creative writing class workshop, this is where an entire class period is devoted to the constructively erudite discussion of a fellow classmates short story (or poem, play, etc.), wherein the writer sits quietly, listening and taking notes, as his or her fellow students analyze and explore the merits of the work and offer clear, insightful criticism on how to improve its overall quality.
Well … ideally, that’s the point.
As an exercise in encouraging the students to speak openly and honestly during our coming workshop days, I submitted one of my own stories, claiming that it was an unpublished story I just happened to be glancing over for a friend they did not know, so they would be welcome to read the story and say whatever they wanted to say about it – after all, what my friend didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Plus, when it came to end of the period and I had thoroughly encouraged them to let ‘er rip, I could then claim ownership of the story and they would see that I was still standing, in one piece, unvanquished by criticism. It seemed a brilliant scheme.
Now, there was a time when I was extraordinarily insecure about my writing. I can remember a few workshops in college in which I struggled to swallow back the lump in my throat and stifle the shameful heat in my face while my fellow students proceeded to tear me a new one. These days, I’m much more satisfied with my writing. When it comes to my stories, I no longer feel like a mother bear protecting her cub. I believe I have learned to take criticism well.
Suffice it to say that I’m glad I’m secure, because it seems the one thing my class did not need was a lesson in speaking openly and honestly. I severely underestimated how comfortable some of my students are with expressing their opinions. My sneaky little exercise was plotted more from the idea that I needed something unpublished and amateur that the students felt qualified to pick at, and that I would need to prod them along like nervous sheep.
I was still standing after the criticism, though some of my students drew much sharper blades than I was expecting. So, I suppose half of the modeling lesson achieved its objective. However, it was impossible for me to disregard the reminder that no person is ever done improving, that not a single soul on this side of life ever finishes the fine-tuning. Recognizing this hard fact is sometimes more beneficial than the criticism that, solicited or unsolicited, is continually and inevitably cast in your direction.