Kill the Babies: Why Everyone Should Participate in a Writers' Workshop

...my husband, an english professor, walked by a colleague's classroom yesterday morning and heard her shouting at the 30 students in her literature class, "You've got to learn to work together in groups!  Getting along with people is part of living in the real world!"

...i contemplated the passion, and then the sanity, of this woman...if it was her intention that her students all get along to do their work, i'd have to tell her she's wasting her good screaming voice...grown ups don't have to get along, or even be friends, to work together...i learned that lesson in the fourth grade when i was paired with a semi-conscious classmate on a "Spaniards of the California Coast" diorama project...she smelled of brie, did none of the writing or reading, but she owned clay and made kick-ass fleets and conquistadors...i never hung out with her at lunch, never traded allegiances on the playground...we didn't get along, never spoke of my little ponies or barbies, we just mapped out stolen gold and catholic missions...i avoided the smelly girl--who flashed her privates to boys at the bus stop and lived in the swankiest house in town--in part because she frightened me, and in part because she was just smelly...i don't even remember the mouth-breather's name...but i remember that project, the fact that for two weeks she and i had to spend an hour after school working together to finish our diorama...we both knew our report cards were at stake, and we got the job done...the project earned an A...

...in writing workshops, some fifteen years later, i finally realized the value of the smelly girl...i could actually work with someone--give praise and criticism--even if i didn't know them, didn't like them, or we didn't get along...we had something in common, and we were working together to get it...there were plenty of bozos in those classes--they let me in, after all--people who took themselves too seriously, or not seriously enough...people i envied whose work was excellent, complete, publishable...people i despised whose work was weak, half-assed and a waste of time...

...one semester in graduate school, as i was making notes on one man's story--a man who reminded me so much of the smelly girl, i could almost picture her brie face--i gave him some praise for a string of words i still remember...i couldn't stand this guy...he'd nearly sexually assaulted a friend of mine, was skating by on a fellowship, and spent his time composing long emails to the graduate class and drinking at local bars...i was working full time, busting my ass just to keep up...he was everything i despised about the world, yet there i was giving him a solid...i could've really let into him, how worthless i thought he was...but the story was a good one...i didn't want to be left in a room alone with the guy, but as far as the workshop went, i had constructive criticism to give...

...writing workshops should be made a core requirement of all high school and/or college curricula...nothing is more humbling than turning over your golden baby to a room full of meat-depraved hell hounds, and having that child ripped to shreds...workshop criticism is a daily reminder of a few key principles of adulthood, which if learned early enough, would keep college professors from becoming wild-eyed, screaming monsters...

  • you are not the center of the universe--the world doesn't revolve around your time table
  • no one can read your mind no matter how much you will it--if it's not on the page, it doesn't exist, thus the project fails
  • everyone has somewhere better to be--if you're not compelling, people lose interest
  • you are not your work, no matter the genre--at the end of the day you're a person, and your writing is your writing (see Barthes and Derrida, et. al.)

...on the first day of writing workshop, and then every so often during the course of our time together, i tell my students we're in workshop to improve our writing, not to make friends...it's not about groupies or who's more popular, it's about writing the right words, helping along someone who has a glimmer of talent but is too cocky, too lazy, or otherwise falling short of that talent...i encourage them to kill each others' babies...to do it often...to give praise where it's due..to grow a thick skin...

...that's what adulthood is about too...growing calluses so the mouth-breathers, the wild-eyed, the self-assured, just graze the surface...adults don't have to get along with the people around them to complete a task...most adults don't have time to like everyone they encounter...they're too busy hating the world...

...if all students had to complete a year or two of writing workshops they wouldn't be driving their frazzled literature professors insane with their inabilities to just get along...they'd be grown-ups...

Comments

  1. Ha! I've worked at my company for many, many years and there have always been personality conflicts.They cause real problems.
    Maybe it should be a requirement for all people!

    ReplyDelete

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