New Level of Rigor

In Eclipse on February 4, 2009 at 8:47 am

My first novel writing workshop last night was a reality check in the form of  a playground gut-punch.  I was not expecting to be met with resistance (especially in my own mind).  My progression from critic to novel writer was to be smooth, seamless and self-flattering.  It was not so.

The class is more like a community than a course.  Many novels writers frequent the class like Remora swimming along the underbelly of their favorite shark.  Our shark happens to be a prof named Raymond.  He has written over 40 books and talks nonchalantly about working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his current piece.  A self-proclaimed ‘writing-whore’, Raymond has done a variety of work – some selling others not.  But consistently, he has crafted his art.

We began with an exercise, which evaluated the first couple pages of several novels in different genres.  You may not be able to judge a book by its cover; but, the point to this exercise was that an editor can judge it by its first couple of pages.  We quickly read over each two-page introduction and appointed a letter grade (A-F).  My feedback did not often align with that of the rest of the class.  In fact, Raymond’s own favorite was not even on my radar.  There was nuance and subtlety to which I, apparently, was not privy.

There were two qualities about Raymond that provided an absolute gut-check.  They are not bad qualities either.  The first was his insistence on his early writing being entirely arrogant.  He claimed he had been arrogant in picturing its early success.  The second factor that shocked me about his writing life, was the required perseverance and sometimes lack of choosing his paying job.  It seemed that much of his work was dictated by demand, rather than by personal preference.  Both of these qualities caused me to grimace when considering the writing lifestyle.

In fact, I came home in consideration about my attendance.  Do I want to submit myself to the level of rigor required in the class?  Cynical feedback and differently-designed classmates?  On the other hand, it may be an excellent opportunity to develop some thick skin.  I may learn a great deal from the other writers.  This way, I can release my writing for feedback.  An author I admire talked about writing being dead when we finish it.  It is dead until a reader takes it in and recounts it in their experience.  Then, the story lives on.  That is why great novels continue to tap our imaginations.


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