In the Hot Seat: Critique and Criticism Right in Front of My Face

Writing GroupsI was in the hot seat yesterday.  I met with a group of writers last night and the topic of discussion was…my story!  As part of the rules, I had to sit quietly while the others discussed my piece like it was legitimate work of literature.  Before I get into that experience, a little background—basically, back in April we all signed up for a short story workshop at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., where we engaged in riveting discussions about both published stories and each other’s work weekly.  Since the members of the class worked so well together, a couple of the students suggested that we keep it going.  The idea was to force ourselves to keep writing and to maintain relationships with people actually willing to read and comment on our stuff! We have a chairperson, record minutes, and discuss each other’s work or engage in writing prompts every other week.  It’s pretty laid back and chill.

Last week, I somehow managed to crank out the story that has been in my head for a while.  While I would like to say that woke up early and wrote it over a pumpkin chai latte made from local pumpkin, I did not.  Rather, I ended up writing the thing in my office. So lame. For a couple of days, I stayed for an extra hour and knocked it out.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I was productive in a quiet and functional space, but I wouldn’t exactly call the office…inspirational.  Whatevs, I got it done.

Anyway! So the story is about a relatively normal and stable girl who accidentally gets addicted to painkillers.  The feedback I received was actually very interesting and surprising to me.  It’s kind of a crazy experience to have people legitimately analyze something you have written right in front of you!  One person described it as a “period piece” because it involved someone in her mid-twenties who was unmarried and still somewhat reliant on her parents.  He said that this story simply could not have happened a generation ago, when people got married at 20, had kids at 22, and essentially “matured” at an earlier age.  That was a valid point and, moreover, a reaction that I never would have anticipated.  I enjoyed listening to that part of the discussion.  I was also told that I took on an “existential question” because my character spent a portion of the story trying to figure out what was real and what was not.  To me, that seemed like a logical struggle because she was a drug addict.  I did not quite think of it as an “existential question” until the discussion went there, but I guess he was right!  I left the meeting feeling energized and inspired.

That all said, we all (myself included) agreed that the writing could be better.  I get so excited about having an idea that sometimes I forget that the real work comes in the editing and crafting the language.  I may be able to create some intrigue with the monotone version of the story that I submitted, but I know it won’t have the desired impact unless I sit down and commit to making it good.  The work involved with that process is probably why the two other short stories I have written have never been revised; however, I actually like this one.  It’s less autobiographical and therefore it has a lot more potential!  Who knows, maybe I’ll turn it into a book!

That’s what’s been going on here.  Hasta luego!


2 thoughts on “In the Hot Seat: Critique and Criticism Right in Front of My Face

  1. Congrats on getting a story down on paper- that’s a HUGE accomplishment! I’ve taken a few writing classes and getting feedback can be REALLY nerve-wracking, so it sounds like your piece was well-received. Kudos! 🙂

  2. Thanks so much! Feedback is nerve wracking, but it helps when the people reading it have been/will be in the same position as you! Also, ultimately, it’s incredibly helpful and therefore worth the anxiety. 🙂

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