“I really liked it.”
It’s how every workshop starts. No matter what side of the equation you’re on, these words, which become meaningless after about the tenth person who says them, are a sort of peace offering for the benefit of both the critiquer and the critiquee. Even if I hated it, or even if you hated it, when it comes time to say it to my face, you really liked it.
“My one negative” you say then, and my instructor cuts in and tells you not to say the word negative. You continue, “My one thing to improve, is…” It can be anything. I can take it lightly, I can use it to improve, I can scoff at it, or I can decide I’m an awful writer and just give up. (I’ll try not to do that last one.)
I’ve always loved this David Sedaris quote:
“I don’t know who invented the template for the standard writing workshop, but whoever it was seems to have struck the perfect balance between sadism and masochism.”
Right? We’re all sitting in a room asking to be told what’s wrong with us.
But really, like Imani said in her last post, it’s not what’s wrong with us, it’s what’s wrong (in correct terms, what could be improved) with our writing. And that’s the whole point. Getting better and creating the best story we can create.
Plus, it’s not all bad. That’s how Gotham workshops are structured. The positive helps to comfort you in the face of sometimes helpful, sometimes a bit soul-crushing, places to improve. Overall, people are nice. The workshop forms a safe space, where ideas are shared and there is a sort of creative bubble of respect, an understanding that we are all passing out our vulnerabilities every week and trusting our classmates with our ideas and feelings.
Your classmates are like your security agents, pointing out cracks and possible future breaking points, so that when your story hits the ground, it doesn’t explode. (Georgette and I were just talking about when we were in elementary school and had to figure out a way to keep an egg safe after a high drop. So I’m thinking the egg is your story. Just go with it.)
Anyway, I got boothed last week (that’s what Gotham calls being critiqued), and I survived. I also got a lot of new ideas for my story, and some helpful insights for future stories. Now I have to go read my classmates stories for this week. I bet I’ll really like them, but…