Thursday, October 28, 2010

Interrogation 101: Writing Workshop

This semester, I'm required to take a writing workshop wherein I transform a lame seminar paper into an awesome article which dozens of academic journals will be dying to publish. (That is to say, if I'm lucky, one academic journal will consider publishing it after I've implemented their extensive revision sections.)

And I have to say, it's been torture.

It's not that I've never experienced critique before. I've gotten back about a gazillion papers with professor comments on them, and I've also submitted my creative writing to various readers for their feedback - some gushing, some harsh, most of it very helpful.

But what all these experiences had in common was that when I handed them out, they were in some stage of completion. That is, I felt I had gone as far as I could on my own, and it was time for outside input. In fact, with creative writing, I've discovered that if I don't do this, that if I send out things too early, while I'm still working on them, while I've still got tons of my own ideas that I need to put in place, then the early critique actually blights my creativity. If I get outside opinions while the writing is still tenuous in my own head, then I am besieged by doubt and, to quote the Apostle James, I and the paper become "like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." Eventually, I lose the desire to create.

Which is primarily why this class has been so wretchedly hard. I have to turn in a draft every three weeks. This is quite a lot of writing (especially academic writing) in the first place, and then to have all the weak places prodded and diagnosed by a classful of critics - the whole production process has been very difficult.

And, let me emphasize, not because of any failing in my classmates or professor. They've been great. The paper was weak, and it needed to be prodded and diagnosed. It's a matter of being able to survive as a writer inside of (in spite of?) the structure of the class.

On the whole, however, I suspect that learning to write under what seem to me very adverse circumstances will be far more valuable to me even than producing a publishable article. Forging ahead, writing, even when I feel like I've lost my faith in what I'm doing - I think it forges a kind of strength, the ability to perform a difficult job (writing is certainly the hardest thing I've ever done) without any comforting emotional support. And hopefully, I'll also learn the ability to pick out my own idea in the midst of a flood of suggestions and good advice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Romanticists wear striped socks

I kid you not. It's apparently a kind of secret sign.

Last year, I took a class with the new Romanticist* in our department. He's what would I would call a preppy dresser: pressed dress shirt, cuff links, shined shoes. Always. In a department where some faculty rarely aspire beyond shorts and flip flops (and I am so okay with that), it sticks out, which is probably why I noticed his socks. Bright. Stripes. I actually looked forward to seeing what pair he'd be wearing every class. I took it as a kind of private rebellion against his own self-imposed dress code. (Romanticists are complicated people.)

And then, this last weekend at a nineteenth century conference, I overheard the following exchange:

Visiting Romanticist: I see you wear striped socks. You must be a Romanticist.

Our Romanticist: Oh yes!

Both: [lift pant cuffs to display brightly striped socks]

(*Romanticist - scholar who studies literature more or less written between 1750 and 1850.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Back in the Saddle

A packed and stressful month at school caused me to drop the ball on both this blog and my WIP. However, after an inspiring Houston YA/MG authors group meeting yesterday (read about it here, and having survived the first month and a half of the semester, I am back in gear!

In one way, my forced hiatus from the WIP may have been a good thing--I'd written myself to a standstill, and needed a break and some fresh perspective to figure out how to take the story to the next level. Hopefully, I've gotten that, so here's to draft five!