Sunday, July 20, 2008


One of the other main expectations I had coming into the program was that I would be in a really supportive environment where people encouraged me and said nice things about my writing to keep me going. This is one of those dreams, I think, that a lot of us have when we decide to go into MFA programs. In our undergraduate workshop classes, we had people pretty much in awe of our abilities because we actually wrote in our spare time and had gotten to be quite good at it while most of our fellow workshoppers were just taking the class for a fun and easy elective. But in grad school the demographics, if you will, are different. Everybody there is a writer and everybody there is really good (if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have gotten in to begin with).

Positive feedback, at least in my experience, is rare. It does come, sometimes, and it often comes in the written comments that get handed to you after class discussion is over. Most of the time in workshop, class discussions are spent really picking apart every possible thing that could be considered wrong with your piece, to the point where if you didn’t know better you’d think everybody believes you’re a terrible writer and that they’re all gently trying to urge you to give up.

This can be frustrating at first (it was for me!). I mean, we’re all just starting as writers. Many of us haven’t even gotten anything published yet when we begin grad school, and the ones who have probably haven’t gotten anything published anywhere that special. We need to believe in ourselves so we keep sending things out (and have the faith in our own abilities to keep writing and submitting after each rejection).

But the thing that I had come to accept by the end of my first semester in grad school is that, while it’s hard, sometimes, to get negative feedback and you really wish someone would say something nice now and then, it really is more useful as a developing writer to hear the negative comments. I can not even tell you how much my writing has improved in the last two years, just from watching my stories get ripped to shreds every single time I submit something to workshop.

I’ve learned to recognize the faults in my own writing; I’ve picked up on the mistakes I tend to make over and over; I’ve gotten the hang of looking at my own work with an unbiased and impartial eye. And now even my first drafts are much much much better than they used to be. And my final drafts are finally getting to the point where they’re (dare I say it?) publishable.

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