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!

Love is a Drug

broken heartSo today, I’m going to do something out of the norm.  I’m going to discuss an idea that I will write within the next couple of weeks.  Meaning, I’m actually going to write some fiction! Seriously!  My writing group has been meeting for a couple of months now and it’s reaching the point where I should try to produce something rather than simply drink other people’s wine, eat cookies and share my wisdom.  Side note: in case you’re wondering what I, who has no creative writing experience beyond the class where I met these people, offer the group, it’s this: the perspective of a random person who feels like reading a story. 🙂  In other words, I choose to critique as a consumer, asking, if I purchased a book/magazine that included this piece of fiction, what would I think? Would I be satisfied? Confused? Bored? Distracted by factual errors?  I do this because, despite studying History and Literature, I don’t like to provide, like, deep literary analysis.  When I read fiction, I’m looking for an enjoyable experience.  What I’m saying is,  I’m not looking to study and analyze fiction anymore, I just want to think and feel. Lalala.

But back to THE IDEA.  Basically, I’m thinking about writing a short story from the point of view of an addict.  Not because I’m an addict (I’m not), and not because Whitney Houston’s death made me cry (it did).  Rather, as I lived my life (aka my research),  I’ve had the reoccurring sense that being in love is like an addiction.  I know what love is like, so can I use that experience to write a story about, you know, substance abuse? We’ll see. Don’t get me wrong—I love love.  But it does essentially require one to, in many ways, prioritize something else over themselves.  Typically this is a positive thing, which is why relationships and families are wonderful.  However, love, or the idea of losing love (much like drugs/alcohol or the idea of losing drugs/alcohol), can make people do some pretty crazy things: they may stop doing the activities they enjoy, alienate themselves from friends and family, quit their jobs, go against their core convictions or beliefs, spend crazy amounts of money, etc.  In extreme cases, they are willing to endure physical abuse to their bodies or even die! And, of course, once someone has decided quit, there are the withdrawal symptoms.  Trying to recover from addiction (be it to a substance or a person), one endures stress, weight loss, anxiety, among other things.  They have their good days and their bad days, and require a tremendous amount of strength to stay away from things that may send them spiraling back down the wrong path.  In the case of love that might avoiding a specific, toxic person rather than staying away from love itself (although, I do believe people run into problems when try to avoid deep relationships altogether).  So that’s something I plan to explore.  We’ll see how it goes.  Later dudes!