"I don't really connect with this story."
"You're telling the reader what happened, instead of showing."
"It doesn't feel personal. It has a slick journalistic quality to it."
I nod my head as the feedback flows. It's not quite what I expected. Where is the worship, accolades, and adoration? I wait for someone to say, "Amazing! Truly inspiring work!" or something along those lines. Instead all I hear is criticism eventually tempered with, "But, it's well written."
When I decided to attend the Writer's Studio sponsored by the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts, it was a strategic move. I'd been writing for nearly a year, and my work was running headlong into a wall called "BRILLIANCE!" Each piece was revealing new depth, creativity, and wit. I was better than good. I was that good! I was the undiscovered wunderkind, capable of crafting a masterpiece on the first draft. At least that's what nearly every comment on my blog told me. The only logical step was to share my genius with the world through a reputable print medium. Problem was, I had no idea where to start. I figured a group of my peers would confirm my greatness and point me in the write direction (damn, I'm clever).
The afternoon of my first workshop, I printed a couple of pieces to share. An excerpt from the novel I'm perpetually pushing aside and some personal essays. My friends had already told me that the pieces were superb, so I didn't bother with too much editing. I figured we'd break off into pairs, read each other's work then offer constructive feedback. Of course the feedback for me was to consist of excessive gushing and some punctuation tips.
I was a bit disappointed to arrive in the tiny meeting room and discover that one by one we would read our excerpts aloud for the entire class and receive their critiques. I sat through tales of murder and intrigue in the Roman Empire, Dutch Reformed Christian adolescence, and elderly adventure seeking. Some stories were interesting, others dull. I offered my opinion as I saw fit. "You should describe the facial features your character has in common with his father. Makes it more visual." I feigned patience and sometimes interest as I waited for my turn. It didn't arrive that evening. Class ended with a promise to put me near the top of the reading order at next week's studio. I felt bad. They would all have to wait an excrutiating seven days to be graced with my genius.
A week later I printed sixteen copies of O-R-E-O and brought them to studio, ready to be revered as the second coming. Several blog commentors had already told me that the essay should be published, if it hadn't been already. I just needed the final go ahead from my new audience, and maybe a suggestion or two on decreasing the word count before I shipped it off for an editor's critical eyes.
Their less than enthusiastic response shocked the hell out of me. What did they mean they "didn't really connect"? That's not what my blog readers said. They were totally affected. And what was wrong with sounding journalistic? Aren't magazine essays supposed to be that way? Above all, did their criticism mean my writing wasn't print ready on the first try?
I thought back on the one or two essays I'd e-mailed to a couple of magazines on a whim. Never did get a response. Could it be that the writer's studio participants had picked up on something my readers hadn't yet noticed? Sure, I could write and make words sound pretty. But maybe, just maybe I could benefit from a good editor. Perish the thought. If my writing needed editing, that had to mean it wasn't very good to begin with. I didn't want to fathom that idea. For the past 10 months my aspirations hinged on being the best thing to hit Barnes & Noble since, well since ever. How could I be great, if I couldn't get it right on the first try?
Really, what did these pseudo writers know anyways? I hadn't even heard of a single one of them. If they were such writing gurus why didn't they have a byline attached to their work. Oh, but they did. From books available for purchase at the local bookstore to short stories inside the pages of a recent anthology. Okay, so maybe they did know a thing or two about what it takes to get published. But how could all my blog readers be so wrong about me. How could they see polished and professional when the studio saw rough potential? Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder.
Or maybe the original audience wasn't as discerning as I initially thought. It's not difficult to find "Superb writing" and "You're such a great writer" on even the most mediocre blogs. The blogosphere might not be the best judge of "great writing." For every reputable writer and savvy reader there are a hundred more hacks who think People magazine sets a literary standard.
Perhaps my writing needs a few rounds of revisions. I probably won't see my writing on glossy pages based solely on talent. I just might have to work at this. Yes, I am definitely good. But honestly, I'm not that good. Yet. Oh, it's so much easier to fill my head with the praise and believe the hype.