2016, Archives, December 2016, The MFA Years

5 Things I’ve Learned From Workshop


  1. Workshops push you to write because there is a real, concrete, tangible deadline. I hate to admit this, but the deadline forces me to write instead of watching Netflix or browsing shoes online, and that push helps.
  2. Workshop can feel like information overload. Especially if you’re like me, and you go home and immediately devour all of the written feedback at once. I find it helpful to read all of the written notes and line-by-line comments once, quickly, and then put them away and make a list of things that I find helpful: ideas to use in revision. I think this is helpful because by putting everything away, you are recording only what you remember, and because you inevitably remember certain things and not others, these are the things that matter to you.
  3. Go for the metaphors. Even if they fall flat some of the time, when they work, they really work.*
  4. I hate revising. First drafts are fun because they are freedom and potential, a balloon expanding. Workshop deflates the balloon to a crumpled pile of rubber that you have to blow life into again. That’s what revision is: trying to gather the air in your lungs.
  5. Nonfiction workshop contains a certain amount of voyeurism. What is your thing? What makes your story special? Were you kidnapped as a child? Have you spent time in the psych ward? My mom died when I was 16. Sometimes I feel like I’m spinning the same tear-jerker story with different thread. Tales of loss can feel flashy, like the writer is showing you the police chase and not the rest of the movie, because they know that part will grip you the most. In a twisted way, the heaviest moments can feel the cheapest. So I struggle with this, because I like to think I am more than what happens to me—that I am more than her death. But maybe that’s the point. No matter how long I live, no matter the friendships, the heartbreaks, the road trips, I will always be without her and this fact will never stop being fresh in my mind. It will strike me again and again, steady and unrelenting, like the tick of a clock, like the rise of the sun, something to orient myself to.

*Do you smile when people say nice things about your work? Do you look pensively at your notebook? Do you pretend to write something—feign nonchalance—while your insides do cartwheels?  

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