Monday, May 20, 2013

In Defense of Etiquette

I am sickened by the tendency in  writers workshops to gratuitously eviscerate early drafts.
Many of us are finely honed critics spoiling for a discrepancy. We long to establish ourselves as clear authorities while decimating the withering, wasted competition. We use minor errors to sharpen our teeth, sword and imagination against the whet stone of nascent writing, never reading for pleasure or even a sense of strength or offering.
Polite behavior has taken a back seat to seditious critique and some clearly seek to show their own elucidating chops for degradation and demoralization. This arrogant one-ups-man-ship creates an untenable atmosphere. Only the tough survive and if you can’t take my criticism then you don’t belong in the field. Never mind that the criticism is more about the excesses of the critic, than the errors of the writer. And surely disregard charity, kindness and confidence in another's abilities. These incompetents will never figure out obvious truths without the greatest among us stooping low enough to shed light on their lackluster, patchwork of a manuscript.

The solution
There may be none. If you can’t write... critique.

In college, I was fortunate to study under Kevin McIvoy. While we parted on less than stellar terms, (because I was a fool and tired of being the odd girl out), I managed to learn the art of workshop in his class, if not in his workshop.
First, round robin about what works in the manuscript. No person is allowed to hold their comments for a final twirpy evisceration. Take round robin seriously.
Second, talk about questions, not criticisms, again round robin. What engaged the reader? Where would they like to be taken in this writing? Who most fascinate and why? Does the chassis support the powerful engine? In the second stage, keep in mind that most authors can smell bad writing, even their own, no need to be-labor the point.
Finally, pick one difficulty, just one, that caused you pause. Tackle the single element that will most illustrate your desire to read this author's work; the one element that would prove most useful to you if you were in the writers' shoes. Identify the difficulty that detracts from your ability to hear the writer's voice, plot, or characters, but in this identification speak most clearly about the characters, plot or voice that you treasure.
The idea is to generate a desire to write more, better, clearer not polish the first ten pages. More than anything writers should encourage one another to write. We are all readers first. Our manuscripts are our offering.
Lastly, if the writing is impossible, keep your mouth shut.

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