You know when you have to sneeze and it can’t or won’t come, and there’s this buildup, this feeling of needing something to happen in order to feel normal again?
Well, that’s kind of how I feel right now.
When I was driving home from class, I was convinced that I did actually have to sneeze. There was a pressure at the back of my throat and my nose tingled but the more I thought about it I realized that it was anger. And what I was suppressing was frustration.
Cover your fucking mouth.
Being workshopped is not for the faint of heart. You have to be secure in what you’re writing, you have to be prepared to answer any possible question that could be thrown at you. You have to believe in what you’re writing both in form and in content. Any sort of insecurity or vacillation will be detected and promptly harped on until you want to sit in a corner and cry.
What I’m going to discuss today is when you feel that your workshop hasn’t gone your way and you don’t know what to do about it.
So I was workshopped today. I was fairly confident the days leading up to this; my last workshopping had gone rather well, everyone asked and answered the questions I wanted, there was no uncertainty, and I walked away ready, fuck, eager to write more. This time, I picked a section that I was confident with, there wasn’t too much involved that would need explaining and I had edited it to the extend that I wasn’t embarrassed. All I wanted, really, was to be told if my POVs were distinct enough that I could carry them through the whole story. I did everything one should do before walking into a workshopping. I wasn’t even nervous to read the first page out loud.
I suppose all of that should have been a sign of things to come. Nothing ever goes exactly the way you want.
Instead of discussing the mechanics of the story–excerpt, really. The story as a whole is over 50 pages–what I got was Harry Potter.
Now, anyone who knows me knows I fucking love Harry Potter. There’s no fucking doubt about that. I’m sure I’ve said many a time that I would like to write the next Harry Potter. And who wouldn’t? Bitch is fucking richer than the Queen right now. The thing is, the next Harry Potter is something I’ll write when I want to write it. It’s not something I want to be told I’m writing when that is not my intention.
That’s another thing you probably will have to deal with if you become a published writer: people telling you that your work is something that it isn’t. Sometimes that could work for you, maybe they’ll say your work is deeper than you had intended, which is cool. Means you’re smarter than you think. But sometimes shit like that is just blatantly unhelpful.
I’m going to say that Harry Potter was mentioned maybe 10 times or more during my entire workshopping. Which, okay, whatever. If that’s the only “fantasy” you’re exposed to then whatever, everything is going to be Harry Potter to you. At least they didn’t say Twilight. I would have cut someone.
What I was basically told was that my story drew too much from other sources.
That shit threw me for a fucking loop.
Not only have I worked my fucking ASS OFF trying to create an entirely original world, with it’s own rules and constrictions and nuances (I have a fucking MAP of the CITY for christ’s sake. I created a University, a bookstore chain, my own fucking version of Donald Trump), I absolutely did not know what they were talking about. Not a clue. As I was sitting there, I tried to find places where that could be true, where I maybe slipped in the word Hufflepuff instead of something else. Where I said Muggle instead of my word for non magical people (yes, I have my own word for it. And it sounds nothing like Muggle). And I completely could not think of one instance where this would be true.
My thing was, if I’m drawing on other works and I can’t see it, then how can I continue? How am I supposed to go on when I feel like every word I write could be an accidental homage to the Boy Who Lived? What would be the point of that? It would mean I’m not myself, I’m not original, my story only works if I’m making nods to other people. That’s not writing, that’s paying tribute.
Alice in Wonderland was also mentioned. Which, okay, I can see that. My story titles are all characters from Alice and Through the Looking Glass. The name of the city I created is Wonderland.
That is where I thought the similarities stopped.
In fact, those aren’t similarities. Those are me making my story titles from characters of another story. And naming my city Wonderland.
I normally don’t resist criticism. I like being told what in my story doesn’t work so I can improve it. It’s easier to know what doesn’t work than what works. But I have to draw the line somewhere. It took me forever to come up with my story titles. It took a lot of careful thought and research. I’ve never read Through the Looking Glass, I did not know all the characters. I did not know that the Mad Hatter wasn’t called the Mad Hatter at all, that was Disney. So when I put all this thought and effort into titles, which are difficult for me to being with, I’m going to reject the idea of changing them.
I’m writing a book of linked short stories for my thesis. One of the other things I was told was that I needed to make the distinctions between my stories greater. That I maybe should have consider making them all separate novels.
Again, I do not resist the idea of changing my stuff, however radically. If it looks like the change in question makes sense and will improve what I’m doing, I’m all for it. And that’s important. You have to be open for that sort of thing. Nothing you write is going to be perfect right off the bat.
The thing is, though, the entire POINT of what I’m doing hinges on the format I chose. That is why I was so conflicted when I thought I should expand one of my stories. That would mean abandoning the format I’ve been working really hard to perfect. Which, I guess, I should think about the fact that maybe I am going about this the wrong way. But no one really wants to think that.
So what am I going to do?
First, I should ask, what should one do when faced with a workshop like the one I just went through?
I think I handled myself all right. I bit my lip and I listened to everything, regardless of if I knew what they were talking about or not. I answered the questions to the best of my capability and I didn’t contradict. I didn’t berate them for not reading carefully enough or for not understanding that the first excerpt and the second one were two different parts of a whole and should be treated as such. I didn’t shout at them to keep open minds. I didn’t tell them to stop comparing my shit to Harry Motherfucking Potter. I didn’t cry. Rage. I didn’t say my work was a load of crap and should be treated as such. I was calm, composed, and I really did try to see it from their point of view.
I think that’s all you can do, really, when faced with that situation. Listen to what is being said. Listen. The first impuse is going to be to defend your work. But listening is so important. Try to look at your work as a potential reader, not as the author. You’re too close to it as the author.
I don’t know what I’m going to do, honestly. I guess the first thing I’m going to do is sit down and read through my story in question very carefully. I’m going to have to mark what I think could be a similarity to Harry Potter or anything of that nature and if it is something that could be changeable, I will have to think of ways to change it. And if I can’t find anything or if I can’t change it, I’m going to have to seriously consider not writing this book anymore. I will have to stop wasting my effort and hope I can pull something else out of my ass in enough time to graduate on time. Perhaps a cookie-cutter literary novel. Or a memoir chronicling my rather ordinary life. I’ll just have to write enough to make a passable thesis, get my degree and move on.
I may not be proud of it in the end, but hell, the thing I was proud of might not work, so pride has nothing to do with it.