Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pushing Yourself

Perhaps it’s the fact that I won’t be going to school next semester (yes, that’s right, it’s been officially decided that I’ll be moving to Ohio so my husband can begin study at a masters program there. I’ll try to find the least undesirable job that I can and focus my attention on getting my novel ready to send out) but this past week I’ve suddenly had a heightened sense of the value of the feedback that you get and the things that you learn in an MFA program.

Feedback is something I’ve struggled with I would say my entire time in the program. Sometimes I want to ignore some points of feedback altogether – write it off as that person simply not being in my audience – and I know that other people are prone to this as well, often directing their peers with what sort of feedback they’re looking for when they turn something in to workshop (and I’ve been guilty of this, too). But I’ve been thinking more and more lately that that sort of attitude will hold you back from getting to be the writer that you have the potential to become.

I don’t mean that I’ve decided that from now on every single suggestion that anybody gives me I’ll just mindlessly take. But ignoring bits of feedback altogether isn’t useful either. Ultimately, whether somebody would be in your audience or not has very little to do with whether or not you should consider their points. They are readers and writers and how they react to your piece is worth knowing – even if you won’t change the piece accordingly.

What I mean is that, you learn, as a writer, every time somebody misreads something that you wrote. And no matter what, people will always misread things. Even if it’s ready, even if you get it published to great success, there will always still be people who read it differently than you intended, get hung up on certain parts that you put in as mere background, or just plain dislike it for whatever reason they may have. And it teaches you a lot about writing to know these things.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that, with my time in the program very near to its end, I’m finding myself more and more interested and willing to try to crawl outside of my comfort zone as a writer, to stop saying, “Well, I’m just not interested in writing like that” and begin to experiment around with some of the techniques that I used to consider pretentious and now realize can be really effective, if done well.

I still believe that experimental writing is overused and that most readers aren’t interested in it, but I do think that, if something nontraditional can be done in such a way that it doesn’t seem experimental – that is, it’s so flawlessly integrated into the text that the reader doesn’t even notice the experimental quality of it unless they stop and think about it – it can be effective. It’s true that most of the experiments that we see in workshops aren’t being done well yet, but if you think about it, of course they’re not – they’re drafts! And I think you learn a lot from trying these things, even when they don’t work out.

But experimental isn’t really the right word. I guess what I really mean is not being afraid to move beyond what sort of writer you’ve always been and instead opening up to the possibilities of what sort of writer you have it in you to become. There are certain things that I feel afraid of trying because I think, “I’m just not a good enough writer to pull that off,” but really, the only way I can get to be a good enough writer is to push myself and try those things and learn from my mistakes until I get to a point where I can pull them off.

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