Monday, January 26, 2009

when you don't get the memo...

Sorry for the silence over here! I've had a busy few days, including partipating in a fiction workshop. A few months ago, there was a call for had to be "good enough" to get into this workshop. I sent in my story, joking about my chances.

To my surprise, I got in. I read the other pieces, which were all reasonably good, but mine seemed, well, different. I have this book deadline coming up soon, and a relative was visiting, but hey, I thought, maybe I can do this workshop.
Maybe I can do this fiction thing.

The first day I climbed up the hill to the university and saw the classroom had no left-handed desks at all. I'm left-handed. (an omen?) I made do with a spare wooden chair and wrote on my lap. The instructor, a talented novelist, then talked. And talked. His eastern Kentucky accent? Delightful to hear. His information--somewhat interesting...for perhaps the first hour. Over two hours later, we had our first break. My bottom was so sore it was hard to concentrate after that! After the first day (9-3), I wasn't sure I wanted to go back.

Day 2 seemed slightly better, although the instructor allowed for little time to make connections with other writers, and again talked at us for a long while. (No partner exercises, few writing prompts, and just a few conversations.) Finally, we got to the time when we "workshopped." People talked about each others' stories. I'd never had a group evaluate my fiction before, and gosh, maybe this wasn't the group for me. Even though more than half of the participants liked my story, the negative comments were all over the map...and they seemed upset when I wanted to respond and discuss my choices. Very few offered me specific revision concepts that I understood well enough to act on. In fact, I wasn't sure I wanted to.

Many of these students called themselves "workshop junkies." They'd "workshopped" the same stories over and over. They loved these "events" where people talked writing and ideas...but mostly focused on Southern writing, as far as I can tell. Although I write all the time, sell my work, and often look for feedback...well, I think I'm not in this workshop crowd. Even the readings assigned upset me. The most difficult part is that I seemed to have missed the memo:

This was an Appalachian fiction workshop. Even though they accepted me to the program, my work and life experience didn't fit in. Instead, I heard phrases like this:

I’ve been quit smokin’ three years now.

I was Holiness until I was 17. *

*Holiness is a Christian denomination. (they assumed you knew exactly what that meant.)

In the conversations, in the shared experience, I was lost. Although the instructor said we wrote for ourselves, not our audience? In every prompt and exercise, I gauged the crowd and wrote for them. I had to fit into their genre; they didn't have to reach to mine.

On Saturday evening, something serious came up, I felt I needed to pay attention to our visiting relative-- and I decided not to go back for Sunday's class, bowing out early with a (darned) good excuse.

The important thing learned from this is that sometimes bailing out is the right thing to do. I was so unhappy and agitated. I didn't feel welcome, like an alien with three an ice cream parlor....and felt shamed by it. I imagined having to back my three heads right out of the storefront, saying "oops! Sorry! Wrong Planet!" The best part about being an adult and choosing one's educational journey is being able to admit, "Hey, this path just isn't for me. I'm backing the car up now. Let's go on home." Never before did my isolated home office, my computer, my books, and all my email correspondents seem like such a good place to be a writer.

Whew. Glad to be home.

Ever feel this way? Aren't you glad that there's more than one way to succeed as a professional?

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Blogger Nancy said...

An Appalachian writing workshop doesn't have to be like the one you attended. And not all Appalachians speak like that, thank goodness. Oh well, that's a whole mindset I understand not and which I escaped when I left for 30 years!

January 26, 2009 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger Geek Knitter said...

Thanks for the article, I'm going to give it a closer read when I'm not, you know, working!

Three-headed-alien in an ice-cream shop, yeah, I do that a lot. Lucky for me, there are a lot of was to be a computer professional!

January 26, 2009 at 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've done the workshopping thing, and I imagine it's jarring to say the least if you haven't been prepared for it by a wise instructor--and if the instructor hasn't given good guidance on how to comment. Sounds like you did the right thing to split.

January 26, 2009 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger Sharon in Surrey said...

The Workshop thing can be a very exciting process or a complete time waster! Too bad yours was the latter. I'm glad you were able to exit without feeling too guilty & congratulations on being secure enough to do so, too. It's sad, but true - a lot of people just aren't interested in any other vision but their own . . .

January 26, 2009 at 10:37 PM  
Blogger Romi said...

What an odd experience that must have been!

January 27, 2009 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Amelia of Ask The Bellwether said...

Yes, I've felt I was in the wrong class before, usually I just go off on my own tangent and get through it; but if I had something to pull me away from it, I don't doubt I'd duck out at a break!

Sometimes I wonder if I'm heading the right direction on things, but generally as long as it's interesting, I figure I can't be too far off a good course (even if it's not the "right" one, grin).

January 27, 2009 at 4:53 PM  

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