Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What I learned from learning

Oooooh, deep, right? So I've completed my introduction to creative writing class for this semester, and while I wait for the advanced class to start I thought I'd share some of the wisdom I've culled from the class. Some of these I've written about previously, but you'll just have to deal with that, won't you?

How to take criticism
There's more to this topic than I could write in even a full blog post, but there was on overriding lesson I learned about this as part of the workshopping process: be quiet. Whether you're face to face with the person or reading their notes after the fact, just listen. Don't try to argue or explain or disagree or agree. You won't have the chance to do any of those things with any other readers, so just listen to what they're saying from the perspective of a reader. Your writing is the only chance you get to tell your story, and if you're not clearly conveying something your critique partners will let you know.

How to give criticism
I definitely struggled with this one. You guys gave great advice - lots of positives with a few specific improvement areas - but I still had a hard time coming up with some of those positives. I am a critical person by nature and not prone to sugar coating, so I wanted to focus on what they could do better. It was only after hearing the feedback on my own work - the good and the bad - that I realized how important it is to let people know that they're on the right track. Even if it wasn't my cup of tea, even if I thought the grammar was a hot mess, even if I had no idea what they were writing about, they needed the encouragement to go on. Most of us were fledgling writers, and for a lot of the participants this was their first time sharing their work with someone ever. I didn't want the burden of crushing someone's dreams on my conscience.

The basics MATTER
I've been a voracious reader since I was five years old, and I'd been writing seriously for about a year and a half when I first started the class, so I figured I knew what was up. I knew about conflict and plot and sparkly romance (not to be confused with romance between sparkly people). What I didn't realize was how vague my concepts of the basics were. I mean, I knew you had to have characters, but I didn't think about characterization. I knew that people needed to know the scene was taking place in a room, but I didn't think about actually describing that room. I knew that I liked the tone of some books better than others, but I never really thought about how to convey that tone consistently throughout an entire novel.
Deconstructing the basic elements of storytelling, examining them separately, and then putting them back together helped tremendously. Deconstructing the basic elements of your own story - plot, conflict, characterization, tone - and examining them as separate pieces of the puzzle will help identify those nagging areas that need improvement.

What have you learned from your writing journey?


Melissa Gill said...

These are all great points. I too struggle wiht both giving and receiving critisism. It's not that I want to argue with my critics, but I want to dialogue with them. Excellent point that I won't have that opportunity with readers. I hand't thought of it like that.

As for giving critisism, I'm like you. I'm critical, and I have a very sensitive BS meter, so it's hard for me to BS someone and make it sound sincere enought for them to buy it.

And who knew there were so many fundamentals to learn.

Great post.

Anna Zagar said...

Hey, I'm horrible at giving criticism but for a different reason: I'm not honest enough. I don't want to hurt someone's feelings, so I make it sound better than it is, which totally doesn't help anyone. At least in person. When I'm exchanging pages with my critique partners through email, I'm brutally honest...Guess that makes me a coward...