Writing & Workshopping

Today in 1979, Ginsberg and P.O. headed off from Boulder to spend their weekend in New Orleans and New York. This is only a couple weeks after some anti-nuclear waste dumping protest work in Albuquerque. (See The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder for more information)

The Beats were always on the move — constantly in motion from one city to the next, from one country to another, from one reality to another; they traversed boundaries more often and more smoothly than most of us even hope to traverse our own regular days and routines. Today I could barely even get a word document to make the shift from one computer to another — some strangeness between saving a word doc on a Mac before moving it onto a PC.

And while my traveling is being bogged to a current minimum due to graduate school (although I will be spending time in Washington, Boston, New York, Pawley’s Island (SC), Dallas, and Austin this summer — finally, finally, my bones may move), I have been currently experimenting with different ways to channel A.G.’s constant desire to move as well as his keen ability to collaborate. Primarily I’ve been working with three different buds — E.B., H.S., and D.P. — in order to both move beyond the falsity that writing is a mountain to be scaled in solitary as well as to see my work shift and transform from world to world of these very different, very intelligent people’s perspectives, their varying gravities crunching and floating the words in different places, their unique air supplies making my organization seem dizzier or more cogent — and I have found that, with the company of excellent and honest feedback, my work is not only improving as they read it but is improving as I write it.

I’m not suggesting I’ve somehow reinvented the ancient workshop, but that perhaps I’ve simply rediscovered it for myself as I had long only ever found myself feeling happy but ultimately unimproved by surrounding myself with other authors who never seemed comfortable giving hard opinions (such as “this chapter just wasn’t interesting to me”) or with suggesting anything that might significantly change or challenge my “voice” or argument. Perhaps attempting to cross the boundary of solitude and then the boundary of trusting only the words and wisdoms of other writers (or, at least, of other writers in my field) will continue to help me progress in innovative and unforeseen ways.

If you haven’t had a friend or colleague (unrelated to your writing topic and/or style) read your work aloud with you, I suggest you try it. You may find you learn things the classic roundtable of critics hadn’t taught you — only by coming to our works through new and different perspectives with frank and honest conversation will we be able to stretch and discover new avenues and meanings within our writing, new possibilities for our writing, and new boundaries to cross over inside our writing.

Keep on keepin’ on!

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2 thoughts on “Writing & Workshopping”

  1. This is something I’m trying to do with my writing. I want to have a small group or partner that can offer critiques beyond, “Oh, I liked it.” But it’s a scary thing to give someone else your writing to read! It’s almost as though they’re taking a part of you and now they get to say something about it. Yet, without critiques, advice, and whatnot, we don’t grow as humans and as writers.

    1. I agree entirely — it is difficult to hand your writing off to another person for feedback. What’s more, I often find it difficult to actually get feedback from those readers who often feel uncomfortable giving honest criticism. What I would recommend is speaking frankly with any fellow writers you have in your midst about creating a weekly or even monthly Writer’s Crit Group and to be a bit formal with it; I find that in slightly more formalized settings, where it’s viewed as a work opportunity rather than a lunch out or fun club kind of gathering, that people feel a bit more at ease with providing honest, constructive advice. I’ve been in groups that exchanged works online for people to read and write on ahead of time, I’ve been in groups where we all took turns so that some days half of the people would read their works aloud for the group (and then at the next meeting the other half would go) and that made for a very dynamic and energizing experience. But I think, any way you do it, formatting it with a bit more of a formal air is helpful.

      Of course, if you don’t feel like your network of writers would necessarily have the time or desire to do this, you can always contact agents or professional editors like Herta Feely of Chrysalis Editorial who do manuscript workshops with writers as well as the representative work. The key is not giving up and approaching critiques as another part of the process rather than as an obstacle within it :] You can do it!

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