Friday, October 15, 2010

Workshopping Part Deux (The Sequel)

Wednesday night we OFFICIALLY started workshopping in my creative writing class. Which means people passed out their pieces for the class to review over the next week and return flush with feedback next week. I was actually excited for this exercise; I'd been a beta reader for a couple of friends before this, but this is the first time I'll be involved in a structured feedback session. I curled up with a stack of excerpts last night and dug in, pen poised to give insightful and life changing advice. That's how this works, right?

Uh. So. Wow.

Let's start off by saying I don't want to sound like a total douche. I'm well aware of the limitations in my own writing (and well aware of when I'm NOT well aware of them), and I know I have things to work on. I expect people to rip my stuff apart, hand me the shreds, and say they don't know what I was trying to do but my story made them gag a little. I mean, hopefully not, but I'm prepared if they do. There's no way I can be objective about my own writing, which is precisely why I'm excited for this workshopping bidnizz.

I've known from the beginning that I was probably one of the more advanced students regarding technique. I completely chalk this up to all of the learning I've been doing on the blogs this past year as well as the heaps of writing I've done all throughout my life. A lot of the rookie mistakes I expect - overwriting, info dumping, a love of adverbial dialog tags that I can't seem to get rid of - have already been weeded out of my own writing. Or if they haven't, I'm at least aware of them when someone points them out. So I was fully expecting to see and comment on these things in one form or another in most of the writing. In fact, I was proud of my blog buddies and the information they've instilled in me (that's you guys!). I was only too happy to pass it on.

What I was less expecting, but got a whole heapful of, was a basic lack of proper mechanics. Incorrectly used words, wrong verb tenses, odd sentence structuring, a lack of comma usage. So much so that it frequently interfered with my actual reading. I was so caught up in trying to figure out what they were trying to say that I lost sight of the overall storyline. Eventually I had to put it out of my mind and ignore the grammatical flaws to focus on giving them character/plot/setting feedback. Several of the stories were actually good, but the mechanical issues were very surprising. These are all college level and beyond students, so I was floored that things like choosing the correct verb tense were an issue.

So for those of you out there with more experience than me in workshopping beginning writers' work, have you experienced this same thing? Do you often run into a basic lack of structuring? How do you address these issues with the writer? I'm not looking to act as their English teacher, but I don't want to do them a disservice by not addressing it. What do you do?


Lydia Kang said...

Oh, I don't envy your position. First of all, hooray to you for knowing so much technique!
As for the basic stuff, you could simply say stuff like, "just beware of your grammar, for instance..." and mention only one thing. Lots of praise, and a few constructive comments. You'd do a disservice by saying nothing but nice things (they'll learn nothing), or nothing but criticism (they'll feel so bad they might give up!)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I was in a crit group like this. I quit a week later after spending 5 hours on one guy's chapter. And this was after it had gone through the rounds with several other critters.

Anonymous said...

I've encountered these problems before in my Creative Writing course in college. All my fellow students were excellent writers, but some of them had never written anything creative before, so the grammar specific to fiction writing eluded them. I'd point out some common grammatical mistakes (line edit them with a few explanations) in the first few pages and stop after those. Their subsequent stories were much better (grammatically) than their first one, and a lot more fun to read, too. :)


What Lydia said times two! "Catch them being good," I always say. Tell them what they did well first. Then tell them what they might want to focus on to make it better.

JEM said...

Thanks for the commments, ladies! I (think) I've decided to address it as a general concern for the entire class since I saw it in most of the pieces I critiqued.