Writer’s Brock – “One must be made a fool to learn.”

Writing school means writing workshops. This involves giving a story to everyone in a class full of writing students, as well as the instructor, and asking for their feedback. When I was first writing, I was against the fundamental philosophy underlying such coursework. I believed that writers should be despots, utterly free of criticism and in total control of a given piece.  When I switched my major to creative writing, however, such classes became inevitable. By the time of my first one, I had gotten sick of limited feedback. Up until that point I had been giving all my writing to one man who offered little help. This professor would make a few marks here and there and either write “good” “very good” or “excellent” on my manuscripts to let me know what he thought of them overall. Much as I liked to think of myself as the sole author of my writing, I still sought more input than just a few words, so I went in the opposite direction. I went into workshops. The first one that I had did not go well. I had written a thinly-veiled account of how I had come to seek sobriety. When I had written it, I had been sober for a significant amount of time, but in the interceding weekend, I had gotten drunk. So going over a recollection of a success that had become a failure, I couldn’t help but be touchy about the subject matter. That, along with the mediocre quality of the work, and my newness to the workshop process, made for a disaster. Reactions varied wildly, but those who disliked my piece most really, really disliked it. I took all that personally. So, between a failure in writing and a failure in real life, I broke down. I was crying at the end of my time. Sobbing, really. No one apologized. Why would they? It was part of the process. One must be made a fool to learn. After the class, the instructor took me aside and talked to me for some time. She was a stout, old Irish woman so gray in hair that it almost felt as if all of her were gray. Softly, she consoled me. I was then given words that I hold on to still. “Dylan, you’re never going to make it as a writer if you stay this hard on yourself.” In some ways, it is hard for me to stand by her advice. I believe that my ripping myself apart has helped me achieve higher levels of quality. What occurs to me is that her point was not to be easy on myself. She meant only that I didn’t need to be as hard on myself as I was then being. I have since soured on workshops. Most of the lessons I learned I could have learned without them. But the professor’s words about self-abuse could have come no other way, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad. It couldn’t have been as bad as most student writing. Ultimately, that is what made me easier on myself: realizing how much almost everyone sucks at writing. That cheers me still.

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