Friday, April 20, 2018
A Good Kind of Fear
I’ve heard that often, people are their own worst critic. Maybe so, but I wonder if whoever coined that phrase ever took their first piece of work to a writing workshop. That, my fellow writers, can be a genuinely terrifying experience. And to be honest, it should be.
Fear, in my opinion, can be a good thing, and when we face the things that scare us, we give ourselves an opportunity to improve ourselves. But that means change, and we are naturally wired to approach change cautiously, if not avoid it. And the more drastic the potential change can be, the more we resist and give in to the fear.
I know a number of writers who have written poems, stories, novels, and so forth, and a few shelves in their house carry their own personal works – and you will likely never read any of them. Why? Because they have never shared this writing with anyone other than their parents, siblings, or a few close friends, and cringe at the thought of going beyond that group. That group of people is a safe space. In that space, the positive is highlighted, the negative avoided. How many drawings have we made as kids that received a prominent place on the refrigerator, regardless of the quality? The same thinking applies to the safe space. Within that exclusive area, the writer is safe, but do they ever progress? The lack of critique means that writing misses a great chance to improve. And unless those first drafts were absolutely magical, they will never get published.
Maybe that’s okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing stories for the satisfaction of writing them, and nothing needs to be published in order to be an achievement. But one benefit of workshopping a piece is learning how to make the next piece more powerful. We can write amusing stories, but with some review and revision, the next story can make readers laugh out loud. And it’s even more fun when we turn a sad story into something that makes strangers tear up.
But that means facing the fear. The big fear. The workshop fear. The “I might not be as perfect as I thought” fear. That means exposing your words to people who aren’t part of your safe space, and who have no interest in putting your work on their refrigerator. For a long time, I thought… actually, I was all but positive I ranked among the best authors in my group of friends, if not the greater Chicago area. I was the hidden literary gem waiting to be discovered. Who could ever match the warmth of my heartfelt stories? Who would dare try to challenge my prose, my lyrical; poetic narrative?
A writing workshop would do that. That’s its job.
For the longest time, I avoided such workshops because in the back of my mind, I knew that once I sat in front of such a group and presented my words, I would no longer be as good as I thought. I would be forced to see the long road ahead, and it would be difficult to look at. I won’t bore anyone with the story of my first workshop in this blog, but here’s a link to a draft of the short story, Writer’s Block, that explains it all. And I never regretted it.
Once we face these groups and their constructive criticism, we start seeing how we can improve our writing, make our stories more powerful, and get more out of our words. And even if we decide that we never want to publish a thing, we build a confidence that our writing is improving, and that we deserve that place on the refrigerator.