Friday, October 10, 2014

Readers are the Reason

This week was my first workshop in my Creative Nonfiction class. I turned in a draft of a piece that I am writing about my childhood home in Miami. I knew there were issues with it, and I was nervous handing it in, but I was so ready to have readers.

Having readers has been the missing link for me as a writer. It's why I started this blog, actually. It's also a big reason why I decided to join an MFA program (people - professors and peers - are forced to read your stuff!!). I've been writing for many years, but my words have mostly stayed on the pages of my notebooks or in Word documents. I've had a few things published around the internet (here and here and here) but nothing substantial. More on that later.

Anyway, back to my readers. In our workshops, after we turn in our 12 pages, our classmates have a week to sit with our story, read and re-read, and finally, compose a letter to us. The letter has three parts: first, they tell us what the story is about (very helpful to hear what others perceive your story to be about), then they tell us what we did really well (close observation, pacing, scene, etc), and lastly, they tell us where they were confused and what parts of the story weren't exactly working for them.

Getting "mail" this week from my eight lovely classmates felt like Christmas morning. But before getting the letters, the class spent about half an hour giving me feedback on my twelve pages. The writer getting the feedback isn't allowed to speak; we're only allowed to take notes furiously as people give suggestions, and blush profusely when we're given compliments. It's a magical half hour, and you leave with a burning desire to run to your writing desk immediately and get to work.

Our teacher has recently given us the analogy of the clothesline. A story is like a clothesline; it's a cord holding lots of different articles of clothing. Your clothesline has to be taut, because otherwise, your clothes will touch the ground and get dirty. And to make things even more interesting, your reader should never see the clothesline. It needs to be there, but it's invisible.

I have no problem writing scenes and reflections and moments - the clothes in this scenario. It's the stringing them up on the line that I have trouble with. My classmates recognized this, and helped me think about ways to tighten the clothesline. I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me before this piece is shiny and ready to go out into the world, but  it was very gratifying to have others see the potential in my writing.

Reading the letters after class, I was overjoyed to learn that several of my classmates had connected to my story.  Some of them even cried while reading, which is, weirdly enough, maybe the best compliment I've ever gotten as a writer.  

This is what it's all about!, I thought. This is why I write!

It's about sharing and it's about connecting. It's about finding that essence that lies within all of us and speaking to it. It's not easy, but I hope I get to try for a long, long time.

Last weekend, I went to Miami to get my family/friend fix. Here's a picture of me attempting to do homework at the beach.

Happy weekend!