Writing class

It has cooled down to my great relief. Grey and rainy – fine with me. Heat really does add to my anxiety for some reason.

Today I stayed home and did not accomplish a whole lot. I did do the one important thing though – I sat down and wrote my piece for my creative writing class. I had put this off all week. Part of the procrastination was reading a book on how to write – From Where You Dream – The Process of Writing Fiction. I think it’s a great book, but reading it completely paralyzed me and I couldn’t actually do any writing.

Finally this afternoon, with the piece due at, um, 6:30, I sat down and wrote it. Not a real problem actually. I wanted to write a fantasy / sci fi piece, but that just went absolutely nowhere, so then I wrote about when I was a child and we moved from Europe to the US. It was actually pleasurable to write. Thinking about writing is horrible, but the actual writing is not. Images just seem to float up, and I get them down, and feel all calm and dreamy at the same time. Maybe the trick is finding the subject. Once I have that, it seems to come together pretty well.

Of course these pieces are tiny, just a page. So the bar isn’t set too high or anything. Still. I didn’t know I could do it.

Reading it out was better this time too. I did a whole inner dialogue in the class (silent)  where I told the kid I’d take care of reading this, and she could relax and do other things, so to speak. And though I felt some fear, I didn’t have to keep stopping, and my voice was steady and pretty f’ing calm actually. An adult voice. Thank you therapy. I feel like if I can be aware that kid parts might be triggered, I can head them off. Yahoo!

A part of class I am less comfortable with is the criticism part. I am critical and I wonder how much value that has. We are to give our honest response, and I do find lots of good things in people’s stuff, but also parts I don’t think work. So, being me, I say it. Then I feel guilty and anxious.

One of the benefits the class has for me is recognizing what works in a piece of writing and what doesn’t. The teacher is really insightful on that point and I’ve learned a lot. Still I’m obviously far from an expert. And for poetry, I can’t tell at all. There is one poet in the class and he seems fabulous, and I don’t have the knowledge to begin to critique his poems. But for narrative, I know some things now.

Or are we all in need mainly of praise and encouragement….to just keep going. Would I be a better person if I stuck to that?

My anxiety after the class says yes. But the part of me that wants to know, that wants to tell the truth as I see it, says no.

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8 comments
  1. Bravo on getting the assignment done, and also enjoying it! I took a creative writing class once. Accidentally :/. The title of the class was, “The Art of Fiction,” or something like that, and I love reading fiction so I signed up for it. Figured we’d be reading fictional novels then writing papers about them. Wrong. I would have never signed up for the class knowing in advance it was actually a class about *writing* fiction, since I’ve never considered myself a “writer”, but I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed writing short stories – which is what we did – despite being super critical about my writing.

    I think providing constructive criticism is a good thing. I think it’s all in the way you word it, and from what I know (and have read) of you, you seem like the type of person who would give constructive criticism in a way that wouldn’t come across as offensive or “critical” or know-it-all-y. I think ultimately, if people are there to hone their writing skills, it’s because that want to improve and they want to know how to become better writers.

    My mom always told me that when you need to provide someone with constructive criticism, it’s best to squeeze it in between compliments, if possible. I tried doing this in my writing class, and felt okay about it for the most part. I tried to emphasize the strengths in their writing, then I would slip in things that they may want to consider looking at so as that’s not the focus of what you’re saying. Does that make sense? From the sounds of it though, you may very well already be doing this, so you can just ignore what I wrote !

    I would also guess that the anxiety might come from the fear of hurting someone else’s feelings, or perhaps the fear of them being upset with you for what you’ve said? At least that’s what’s hardest for me and makes me extremely anxious. If I couldn’t tell whether or not they appreciated my constructive feedback, or if it was apparent that they disagreed with what I was saying, I would get flung into overwhelming anxiety. But I know for me anyways, it’s less about whether what I’m sharing is good to share or not, and more about me caring (and worrying) way too much about how I come across, and how my words might be taken. Thought that perhaps something similar might be going on for you?

    Ps Have you considered sharing any of your writings here on your blog? If you ever do, I for one would be very interested in reading it 🙂

    • Ellen said:

      Funny about taking a writing class by accident! lol. Must be a path you are meant to take then.

      Thanks for your take on criticism. I always do say something at least vaguely positive before any critique. But unfortunately I’m not sure how diplomatic I’m being. Because considering other students’ writing is so very new to me, and I’m just learning what makes good creative writing, I’m almost thinking aloud when I speak, instead of thinking about how this is going to strike the writer. Plus I’m not that much of an expert – the teacher often has a different opinion from mine. Though sometimes similar. For me, the anxiety is about being a bad person somehow, for making people possibly feel bad. No one lets you know how they take the feedback, as we are supposed to accept everything quietly. So it could be totally fine, or people could be upset, I can’t tell.

      Thanks for wanting to read my writing, I appreciate that. I will post my last piece I think, especially since this one is autobiographical. We are to revise our pieces, so I will do that first.

  2. I write for a living, and I also went to college for creative writing. My take on the criticism part of things is that it’s definitely best to start from a complimentary place and then work criticisms in slowly and with lots of cushioning to soften the blow. Also, if I give criticism I try to do it by providing solutions, not just pointing out flaws. For instance, rather than say “the scene you wrote felt a bit static and boring” I might tell the person, “why don’t you have the two characters talking while they shop for clothes instead of just sitting on the couch,” that kind of thing.

    The biggest issue that stops most artists (imo, of course) from being creative is the critical voice in their heads. I got a lot of criticism as a child, most of us did. For a lot of people, the biggest barrier to becoming better at their craft is just practicing and doing more of it. The thing standing in their way is usually that they think they suck. So when giving feedback to other writers, I find it helpful to keep in mind that my ultimate goal is to encourage them.

    Anyway, to each their own, but that’s my take on it!

    Glad to hear you are making progress on understanding how to manage your parts! Yay!

    • Ellen said:

      That seems like really really good advice Aaron, thank you. I kind of think giving feedback so it’s helpful is a skill that you can practice. I’m very very new at it, so of course I’ll make mistakes. I want to be an encouraging person, but I also want to be able to say at least some of what I think, so I’m going to need to balance that. Didn’t know you actually went to school for creative writing – interesting. I read a fair bit, so I thought I knew what makes good fiction, but I really didn’t and I’m learning a lot.

      I have the same issue with the critical voice and the childhood criticism. I was severely criticized in a way no child should be IMO. I know that I partly took that on and can severely and destructively criticize others. If my feedback comes from that place, I’m pretty sure it would hurt and not help. So that’s why it’s a huge issue for me. I see your point too about how writers criticize themselves so encouragement is so vital.

      Managing parts is absolutely huge for me, and this is the first really clear example of where I was able to do that. That is encouraging for sure.

      Thanks!

  3. laura said:

    yahoo, indeed! that’s great! I think it has to do with being aware of your vulnerability, and approaching it consciously, instead of unconsciously.
    how do you feel when you receive criticism in your class? is it shattering?
    I flared up a bit at someone in group, and I had myself tied in knots thinking about how to talk about it the next week – and it turned out that it really hadn’t made that much of an impression on him, he wasn’t hurt by it.
    I thought of you yesterday – I was trying to express anger at my group leader, in our bi-monthly individual session… we’ve all committed to being in group for 4 months, and he announced this week (after a month of group sessions) that he’ll be off on vacation for 2 weeks. Can you believe that?
    when I went to tell him that, I switched into a childish voice, and couldn’t make eye contact. I think of it as my “regressed” voice, and I slip into it with Howard when I’m feeling close to him – so it seemed odd that it popped up with this relative stranger.
    I’m reading a good book too, called “Getting Real”, by Susan Campbell.
    what prompted the move to WordPress?

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, I agree, a big part of it is being aware of what’s happening while it’s happening. Discussing this in therapy really helped with that.

      I have not had much criticism to tell the truth. The little bits of things people have criticized did not bother me one bit. Sometimes I agreed – there are so many blind spots you have to your own writing. Sometimes I didn’t agree, but it didn’t bother me. The teacher is really encouraging, especially to me it seems like. Kind of like a warm bath, rather than being criticized!

      It is so hard to know how we come across unless the other person tells us. Groups are good for that because you can ask and get an honest answer.

      I really think T’s have an obligation to give lots of warning of vacations, as they can upset clients a lot. Sorry the group leader didn’t do that. Interesting about the voice. How did you feel about speaking from it?

      Most of the blogs I follow are on WP, and it is supposed to be a better platform than blogger. I’ve been wanting to move for a while, so finally took the plunge.

      take care

  4. critique is a big part of any photography course i’ve taken. it’s ranged from harsh, take no prisoners commentary (when i was in school in nyc)… to a much more tender approach here in toronto. i totally value critical feedback to my work. my opinion is that it only makes my work stronger in the long run, even though it might be hard to hear at the time. sure it’s nice to hear what “works”… but i’d much rather know what i can improve and how to go about doing that…

  5. Ellen said:

    Big bad NY! lol. You must be very strong to be able to persevere in the face of that kind of criticism. Kind of glad I live in tender hearted TO. I appreciate your take on critiques. Does make me feel better about providing that. People may value it as you do. Hope so.

    Thanks Catherine

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