Classes are now well underway and, while I’m a bit overwhelmed by all the reading and critiquing I have to do, I am thoroughly enjoying being an apprentice writer.
At the end of last year, I questioned whether I should continue with the writing program at UVic. My introductory classes were frustratingly introductory and childcare left me very stressed out. My husband convinced me to give the second-year workshops a chance, so I registered in both creative nonfiction and fiction and waited for September.
Every week, I receive three brand new stories to read and critique for my fiction class. I also get about six or seven new stories to read and critique for my nonfiction class. The stack of paper is daunting. I read each story once just to get a feel for it; a second time to leave margin edits; a third time to leave more margin edits and to write a detailed response; and sometimes a fourth time to add more to my response. Then I hand that back to my classmate, and hope each of them spent as much time and thought on my story, when it’s my turn to be critiqued.
Each time I pick up one of the stories (especially the fiction stories), I feel a sense of privilege. I am one of the first people to read this story—a story that might someday appear in The Antigonish Review or the author’s first collection of short stories.
This author has trusted me to look at his or her work and offer my opinion. Believe me, that is no small trust. It takes courage to hand a piece of writing, especially a piece of fiction, over to someone else and to say, “Can you help me with this?”
The idea of sitting in a room while fourteen other people talked about something I wrote was daunting at first. I was one of the first students to submit work in my fiction class, and thus one of the first to receive critique. It was an amazing hour as I listened to what my fellow writers liked about my story—a piece I’ve been working on for a few years now and even had critiqued before—and what they thought could be improved. Frankly, it was the best critique I’ve ever received. I left that class feeling empowered to expand that story to its fullest potential.
My nonfiction instructor challenged each of us to think of ourselves not as a student but as an apprentice writer. He said these workshops would fit better at a technical college than a university; we are not learning abstract theories, but rather doing hands-on work in our chosen field. Each of us is gaining skills here that we can put into practice immediately as we work toward becoming professional writers.
I leave every class feeling excited and energized, ready to go home and write.
Joanna – I agree. Other writers can often point out things we didn’t see because we’re “too close” to our work. 🙂
Opening myself up to others’ ideas about my work has tremendous potential. Thanks for sharing this.