At the same time, you are thrilled to be at this workshop, with an opportunity to get feedback (which you are sure will be wonderful) from a writing teacher whose work you respect, and whose books have helped many an aspiring novelist. You want to bask in the opportunity to spend this time completely focused on your own work-in-progress and not have to worry about cooking your own meals and then doing the dishes. Here, you are a writer.
Without any maneuvering, the workshop leader sits next to you at dinner, and appears to be amused by your witty repartee. Everything seems to be working as planned.
A funny thing happens after dinner. The group gathers for the opening session, and lo and behold, you are the first one to share your book title and the hook you have crafted. Suddenly you discover that you don’t have a protagonist, you have a victim. To be a protagonist the main character has to act, rather than simply be acted upon. Yours doesn’t act, she reacts.
You also find out that your book title, which is your protagonist/victim’s first name (evocative, you felt), tells the reader nothing. And you realize that if all of this is true, you have to throw out everything you’ve written to date and start over.
After the session is over, you realize you have a choice to make. You can crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head, and wail that everyone is just jealous of your talents and it isn’t fair. Or you can face the fact that you are here to learn, and the first lesson was a tough one to swallow. You came to see what the experts could teach you, and now you have to decide if you are willing to be taught.
Feedback is one of the most difficult things to accept as a writer. It’s easy to convince yourself that the person questioning your choice of word, or character, or storyline, doesn’t understand your intention. And if they don’t, it isn’t your fault they’re dense. You’ve labored over this work for years, and you know you’ve honed it brilliantly.
Or have you? It can be enormously confusing to go to a workshop, sit through classes with one or more instructors, meet one-on-one with several mentors/editors, and have critique sessions with your peers, with everyone telling you something different. After a few days you are reeling from the contradictory suggestions, and it’s tempting to ignore all of it and go your own way.
…if you put aside your bruised ego long enough to look at it clearly, you might realize several different people all seemed to be asking what your main character wants, what her story arc is. And almost everyone commented on how they wanted to know more about your villain, but didn’t seem enthusiastic about your protagonist. So perhaps there are a few things that keep cropping up that might be worth your attention.
Carol (Doc) Dougherty
An avid reader, writer, and student, with a penchant for horse racing, Shakespeare, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Wake Up and Write Writer's Retreat Workshop