I recently came across this old post of mine and revised it. I’m sharing it here as it has a good lesson about creative writing.
This past summer I took a workshop class where we had to submit two short stories and workshop them. My first heavily researched short story grew beyond the preferred length, and I was advised to finish the story and use the ending as my second submission. So, I submitted Part One, unfinished, unedited and unformatted.
The response I got from Part One went beyond (the much appreciated) feedback. It ranged from, “I like it, but it needs to be cleaned up.” to, “This is my wet dream, this is what people want to read!” and “It sounds like a typical romance, and I don’t like romance.” My professor hated it, he said, “I liked your other exercise, and you should write something more like that.” Then to my embarrassment, my class created an uproar of chaos among my fellow authors! Was I writing for an audience? What genre was it? The word “soapy” came into play. By the end of class, despite even the positive feedback I had received, I felt horrible.
When I got home, I sent Part One out to my trusted beta’s hoping for better critical and useful feedback so that I’d know which direction I should take in Part Two. The beta’s responses were similar to the workshop authors but they never questioned the “genre” or called the work “soapy” in fact they loved the premise.
Not knowing which way to go, I decided to write Part Two, the way I would like to read it and so it had to be good enough to take me out of my everyday humdrum. I could not be worried about “defining my genre and sticking to it.” Where’s the creativity in that?
So I held onto all the positive feedback I’d received like a security blanket and stayed up all night crying angrily while pounding out Part Two.
When the class read Part Two, which was so long I had to end it with, “to be continued…” I got GREAT feedback and overall positive response! Again there were minor plot issues, but the guy who didn’t like romance said he was shocked and surprised and he, “really liked the marina scene.” A few of the authors were disappointed that the story didn’t have an absolute ending.
The professor, on the other hand, didn’t like my final revision of Part One and truthfully neither did I. He couldn’t explain why he didn’t like it, but to me, it was dreadful because the rewrite was forced (without any useful critique or feedback). It was rewritten with the intent to please my professor, not me.
But I did learn an important lesson during this process. My story (specifically Part One) should have stayed the way I intended, the way I wanted to read and enjoy it. After submitting the entire rewrite, I put it down with the intention of picking it up later and re-writing it the way I want it.
But get this!
When I returned to school in the fall, one of the student/authors from that workshopping class, approached me and asked about the story!
“Hey, are you still working on that story with the girl and the…?”
I was flattered that anyone gave my story a thought beyond the classroom. I answered, “I put it down for now. I liked Part Two but hate what happened to Part One, but I’m still going to work on it.”
We discussed the story briefly, and then I said, “…writing the mushy stuff is hard.”
“Well you have to challenge yourself,” he said.
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