Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#SOL17: Courage and the Writing Group

self portrait with iphone (Paris, 2016)

I. 

Tonight I will be attending my weekly writer's group and for the first time we will be discussing work I produced. The majority of writers in the group write fiction. Only one other is writing memoir, like me. Last week we met in the bathroom and each confessed a bad case of nerves. 

It's so revealing, I said. There's no place to hide.
I know, she added.  

It's a sizable group--usually about a dozen people. Each week, two works are discussed and everyone around the table says something, often with sharp details about the work, and at the end of the session, the author is given the written comments from each group member.  I have learned a lot the last month listening to others critique work I have read too.  We read differently and there is something rather grand about that. This insight reminds me that we ought to acknowledge and celebrate different interpretations and noticings at school instead of requiring/expecting/celebrating the more homogenous reading of texts.

II.

Since I submitted my work, last week, I have been imagining various responses of those who have read the 15 pages. My worst fears are these:

Stop writing. Just stop.
You shouldn't try to write anymore.
What you have written simply isn't good enough.
It's too depressing.
Can't you write something more cheerful?
What was the point of this?
I was bored reading this.


Now, in my heart I don't think anyone will say this directly, but I do wonder if some might think some of this. What I do think is possible, as I have thought it too, is that some may say that the work meanders and a reader might grow impatient and wonder, what exactly do you want me to feel here? And the answer is that I don't know exactly.  I am one of those who writes to discover.  I am writing a memoir that chronicles Rob's death and the aftermath that comes with living, being a widow, and being a single parent of a high schooler.  Such change.

Crafting a memoir requires me to think about the through lines in the work. What do I need to tug and make more explicit at a structural level? Thematic level?  Figurative level? To help, I am blocking out chunks of time within the narrative and telling the stories that surface and then I will go back to refine the work by asking:

What truths emerge across the pages and across the months? How can I code this?
Are there motifs present in the work? If so, what?
What metaphors are at work? Are any extended?
What lessons seem more important, than merely interesting?
What remains ambivalent? Is that a strength?
What is repetitive and does the repetition advance or likely cause a reader to stumble, lose interest?
How does the mix of prose-poetry style work? Is it coherent? Is art work needed or not?
How does the writing look on the page?
Is the work brave?
Do I feel this? How raw is too raw?
Is there redemption?  Is that necessary?
What surprises me--catches me unaware?
Have I lost my way?

There's much to consider. For now though, I am seeing this sharing of work as courageous.  It's been a year of being courageous. Perhaps that is one of the through lines.

I'll let you know how it went.





20 comments:

  1. So very thoughtful and reflective, Mary Ann. I have come to think we write for ourselves, not necessarily for others and if others find it interesting, meaningful, helpful, encouraging or whatever, that's just an unexpected benefit and blessing. I look forward to learning not only how it went, but what you learn from that too.
    Thanks so very much for sharing so much of yourself, and Rob too. He would be very proud of you and your work, of that I am sure.

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    1. It all went well. The group was kind, direct in the best way, and careful of my feelings. Really humbled me and got me thinking abiut the care I take with each of their works.

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  2. Wow. You are daring to open up for honest feedback. Then again without vulnerability you wouldn't be a writer. I hope the evening goes better than you expect and what you hear is very valuable for your revision process and continuous writing.

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    1. It did go better than I expected. Whew. It inspired me to go back to the memoir and trim and write.

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  3. I've been in a writing group for years. I've recently started attending an SCBWI critique group at the library. This is different because we don't know each other yet. It's scarier and yet, I've gotten good feedback. We are all in this together. Everyone is so encouraging and caring. I hope you get the feedback you need as well as what you want to hear. Your writing is powerful. I look forward to following the journey of your memoir.

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    1. The feedback was inspiring and kind; generous and specific. They are a terrific group. Thanks:)

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  4. Courageous indeed! I love the journey to discovery and how you catalogue it, capture it, and write around, away, from and to it. I can only imagine the challenges this memoir poses. Thank you for sharing some of your process. I hope the evening was as grand as our different readings and writings are.

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    1. The memoir kicks my ass some days. Other days it is solace. The evening was grand. Thank you.

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  5. It feels like "courage" to me to give your work to others for help, for response. Sometimes it feels to me like when we sent a child off to school, pre-school or older, saying "here, take what I've done, enrich this "work" I'm offering. I trust that you will be kind." My writing colleague is writing a memoir, her life that touches on the long journey to getting pregnant. I'm going to share your questions with her. Each feels like one to consider, but one at a time perhaps? Even as I tried to think through each, as the next compounded my thoughts, it felt too much. I know each of us is different, but step by step feels right. I've loved your writing, BTW. Each person who has had loss will live differently, but gain from seeing others' thoughts.

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    1. It is courageous to share work for response. Thanks so much Linda for your words and kindness.

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  6. I am so moved by what you've written here, especially as I am going through the same process with my husband having died last year and writing about it in various places. Your revision questions are excellent, and I will use them for myself as well. Thank you! I have been in various writers' groups over the years, and the best are always useful. And you learn to take the critiques that sound right to you, and leave the ones that don't. Good luck, and let us know how it went.

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    1. I am so sorry for your loss. It is all so difficult.
      The writing was well received and the suggestions and care the group took with my work was humbling.

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  7. You are so brave in your writing, Mary Ann. I love those questions you gathered to pose for yourself - we move ahead as writers (and human beings) when we have the courage to dig deep, ask questions, and be open to what others have to say about our endeavors.

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    1. The questions (not that I will do it all) have helped me to think of how I will next work.

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  8. Mary Ann, your writing is an example of courageous, raw emotions being set upon a page. I find your style unique as you mix different mediums and forms. It is not a meandering of the mind but an exploratory of your stages from grief to a new awakening. Your questions reveal your backstory thoughts and are most reflective. Best of luck when you present. Think of the song "Brave".

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  9. I am worried that you are overthinking your writing. Your first task is to "get it on paper." You can reflect as you go, and revise later when you have a better idea of what you have to work with. You don't need to worry about how whether others will find your work boring: This is YOUR story and you need to tell it the way it feels authentic to you. Perhaps down the road, your critics will have some suggestions for organization, or more brevity, or whatever. But for now...I encourage you to just keep writing and feeling.

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    1. It is my story. Thank you for that reminder, Barbara.

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  10. So what was the group's reaction to your writing?

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