A Fortunate Failure

February 25, 2011

I mentioned that I’ve joined a writers’ workshop.  We have seven writers and a moderator.  We meet weekly and review two pieces distributed at the previous session.  Usually they are short stories.

I’ve written two pieces for the group.  Except for my post, Taking Orders, and a few like it, these are the first short stories I’ve attempted to write since high school.

We reviewed my second story, What Laura Knows, this week.  It was universally disliked.  My attempts to be subtle and draw readers in did not succeed.  Instead of leaving bread crumbs to gently lead readers where I wanted them to go, I had shredded several loaves of irrelevant information and scattered liberally.

I received compliments on some nice phrasing and sentences, but ultimately there wasn’t a focused point to the piece.  (Wait a minute! That’s what a blog is for!)

I knew the story wasn’t finished, but I had no idea it was so far off-base until I heard fellow writers review it.

It was a fantastic night at the workshop for me.

For many years, I’ve had a nagging anxiety that I couldn’t trust positive feedback from people I know.  Teachers, bosses, family, musicians and audiences alike have regularly said that my work, performances, and efforts were very good.  Personally, I doubted that the end products could consistently be as well done as people claimed.  It seemed more likely that I received compliments because I’m loved by my family.  Or I followed protocols and etiquette.  Or  I smooched the proper posteriors.  Or I intimidated people into thinking I must be smart and talented with my pretentious manner of speaking.

But the writers’ group was entirely different.  They completely trashed What Laura Knows—not in a mean or derogatory way, but logically and honestly saying why the story didn’t accomplish what I had hoped.

It was a revelation and a relief.  Not only did I receive constructive criticism, but it came from people whose writing I have reviewed and admired.  So, God as my witness, when I do hand them a story they’ll gush over, I’ll know it’s an honest opinion and something I can trust.

I walked into the workshop this week wondering if I would be encouraged to submit What Laura Knows to a literary magazine after a few minor edits.  That honor deservedly fell to someone else.  I left with a complete change of perspective—about myself, about writing and about my workshop group—which was a much better outcome for me.


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