Writing. Modified. February 12, 2016 at 16:22
Last Sunday was the second week of the writing workshop I’m currently taking. More importantly, it was the first class where my story was peer reviewed and I learned some invaluable information.
First off, this whole “serious writing” thing is very new to me. I’ve written quite a few stories, but I never really took the craft seriously. I would write them, edit out grammatical mistakes or awkward sentences, and then shelf them as if they were a finished product. Technically, I did have a graduate level creative writing class back at Purdue, but I was told right up front that “genre” stories wouldn’t be permitted, so that pretty much destroyed any interest I could’ve feigned in the class. Technically, I don’t think I was mature enough as a writer to actually take my writing seriously as an art form, just as a class to get another A in, so I don’t know how much it would’ve mattered, but I did find out that I can write fiction in that class. Alas, my interest wasn’t there back then.
As you know, I decided at the end of 2014 that I wanted 2016 to be the year I take writing seriously. That’s why I got all of my reading out of the way in 2015. It’s worth noting how serious I am about long-term planning. I mean, maybe I could’ve died or something else slightly less tragic could’ve happened that could’ve affected my whole planning process. Regardless, now we’re in the present and I’m taking my writing so seriously that I’ve bought books on writing and I’ve enlisted in a writer’s workshop. I’ll write about this after all is said and done if I feel it’s worth a recommendation.
The most important fact I learned during the peer review / critique stage was the idea of writing for an audience. If you’ve ever attempted writing or been through this process, I’m sure this is painfully obvious to you and you’re wondering what exactly is wrong with me and how could I have possibly overlooked that. But let me elaborate a little bit and you’ll understand. Because I’ve never really taken writing seriously, I haven’t written anything in years. So the story I submitted was about eight years old or so. Wow, that dates me. It also shows you how long my writing has been dormant.
Regardless, the story I presented was an old one in which I used my friend Crystal as a character. Dumb me followed the whole write what you know adage a little too literally and wrote about somebody I know. There’s a lot more to this than that, but to keep it simple and to minimize the risk of me sounding like more an idiot I’ll stick with this as my prime example. Anyhow, for my submission, I brushed the dust off this story, read it for the first time in probably five years, read it a few more times, made some minor surface revisions, and submitted it on the way. I then spent the week eagerly looking forward to my peer review so I could hear all kinds of positive reinforcement.
If that’s how it actually happened, the story would end there. Instead, although I did get some positive comments on the overall story/tone/plot I received a fair amount of criticism about the character and sequence of events being confusing or ambiguous. The entire time I was thinking to myself “What do you mean you don’t understand why she’s doing that?” It was then that I realized that, although I’m familiar with Crystal, as would anyone else that knows her, my peer review group had no idea who she was. I took the knowledge of her personality and her motivations for granted and assumed my readers would be familiar. When I read through to make my revisions and edits, I didn’t even think of exploring Crystal’s “personality” and “motivations” to potential readers. As a result, the story as a complete entity didn’t make sense. It took me awhile to understand my error when we first began the critique but once I had time to think about it, it made perfect sense. The prison, Crystal’s confinement, and the events leading up to that moment were perfectly clear in my own mind, but I failed to share that with the reader.
Once I understood what I did wrong, for the first time in my life, revision and editing was enjoyable. I’ve worked on this story all week and now that I know some of the major and minor changes I need to make I’m having fun. I look forward to the reception for my second (major) revision.