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.