Stand Up For Your Writing!

The workshop environment can be rough. Having to regularly put your heart on the page and then smile and nod while students and teachers rigorously dismantle and criticize your work is emotionally exhausting. While it’s important to be receptive to suggestions, I also think there can come a time when you have to stand up for your writing and for the choice you’ve made to be a writer. There are two particular situations I want to talk about today, and give a few tips on how to deal with difficult situations.

1. The workshop hyena

Sometimes an entire workshop will seem to respond negatively to a story in a personal way. Something about the subject matter or the way a story has been written can inspire a great deal of scorn and ire. The leaders of the workshop make a few cutting attacks. In this metaphor, you could consider them as lions attacking prey. There’s often at least one student is more aggressive or contemptuous in his or her remarks, and this sets the tone for others to follow. Pretty soon students who would have normally found things to like in the piece begin to gang up on it, finding more and more negative comments to make. They’re like hyenas sometimes, scavengers, leaping into the fray once they’ve seen someone else take the lead.

It can be extremely distressing to see this happen to your piece. Sometimes it can even start to sound personal and hurtful. The important thing to remember is that while they may have crossed the line, you don’t have to. Try not to take any critiques personally, even if they seem like a personal attack. Take the high road and when it’s your turn to speak, thank everyone for their comments. But don’t start apologizing for your writing! You can admit that the story is rough or that you didn’t know how to finish it, but you’ve worked hard and you can be confident that there’s something good to be found in your work. Say a little about the original idea for this story. Stand up for the idea that drove you to write it.

After the jump: how to deal with writing naysayers.

The writing scoffer

At least in a workshop, you can be sure that everyone there takes writing seriously and values it as a craft. More often in your daily life, you might encounter non-writers who scoff at the whole enterprise. Because you are often just sitting around thinking about writing, they’ll tell you that you don’t work as hard as others. They’ll tell you that your classes are all easy A’s, that it’s artsy-fartsy nonsense, or it’s a waste of time to enter a career that won’t net you much money. There are people who will jokingly make fun of you in this way, and some who really look at you with contempt or disdain.

In situations like these, I used to laugh sheepishly and agree that I was in a strange artsy land, that I was sure to be a pitiful starving artist. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve lost patience with these jokes, which often have a cruelty behind them. If people don’t respect my choice to write, then they don’t respect me! I urge you to make very clear that you deserve and expect respect, and that you work as hard as anyone else (and harder than many). Writing is a noble profession! Don’t forget it. You’re not in it for the money or the glory. You’re in it because you can’t not write. It’s important to you and if a friend is to understand and respect you, they must respect your writing.

4 comments

  1. Jerry says:

    Boy, did that ring a bell. More like a gong. From both side of the issue. Being over exuberant in my critiquing and sitting with red ears and a hot face while my writing is being lambasted.

    However a third situation I find even more frustrating. A group of writers who seemingly refuse to say anything that might hurt someone, who instead deprive the writer of much needed, and wanted, criticism.

  2. Felicia says:

    Wow, is the hyena analogy true. What I’ve found to be the most detrimental critique is the style critique. I’ve been part of a small four person writier’s group for a few years now and that was our biggest challenge. We all have very different styles of writing. It took us some time to learn to distinguish what is a stylistic preference and what is truly in need of fixing. I have also found that being the only women in the group, I get pounced on often by the men because they simply don’t see why a paragraph of description about thoughts and feelings matter. I’ve learned to defend my work and my style, but it was very hard at first. KEEP YOUR STYLE! Learn what it is and defend it to end of the earth, because if you try to change it, you will stall as a writer and nothing you write will be good.

  3. Janene says:

    Wow, is the hyena analogy true. What I’ve found to be the most detrimental critique is the style critique. I’ve been part of a small four person writier’s group for a few years now and that was our biggest challenge. We all have very different styles of writing. It took us some time to learn to distinguish what is a stylistic preference and what is truly in need of fixing. I have also found that being the only women in the group, I get pounced on often by the men because they simply don’t see why a paragraph of description about thoughts and feelings matter. I’ve learned to defend my work and my style, but it was very hard at first. KEEP YOUR STYLE! Learn what it is and defend it to end of the earth, because if you try to change it, you will stall as a writer and nothing you write will be good.
    +1

  4. Steve says:

    Boy, did that ring a bell. More like a gong. From both side of the issue. Being over exuberant in my critiquing and sitting with red ears and a hot face while my writing is being lambasted.

    However a third situation I find even more frustrating. A group of writers who seemingly refuse to say anything that might hurt someone, who instead deprive the writer of much needed, and wanted, criticism.

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