Fear of peer review expunged after tear-free workshop

I have a completely new appreciation for the creative process.

Being an English major, most people would assume that I love to write. Which is true. But the problem with writing is that eventually you’re going to have to let someone else read your work. That’s the part I used to hate, and still am not fully comfortable with.

How can you be expected to bare your soul in a poem or a short story and then timidly place it in the hands of someone else who may, figuratively or quite possibly literally, rip it to shreds?

And, on the other side, how can you feel that you have the right to do the same thing to someone else’s work? It takes an enormous amount of trust and humility to take that chance.

But, as I’m slowly learning, it is worth the risk. One can’t expect to be a writer and walk around wearing blinders. Or ear plugs, for that matter.

There’s only so much you can teach yourself. The rest you have to learn by opening up and being receptive to others and embarking on the creative process with peers who will steer you in the right direction.

This semester, I’m taking a poetry/fiction writing workshop in which we all can write whatever we want but must submit our work for our classmates and professor to read and critique.

And this criticism doesn’t come privately. Everyone gets the chance to comment on one person’s work all on the same day.

It sounded an awful lot like a firing squad to me at first, but after receiving my first critiques Tuesday, I revisited the fundamental purpose of writing, which is, to me, to instill a feeling or an idea in other people.

Although my first thought was to bury the short story I wrote underground and then plant something on top of it, I begrudgingly sent it out to my classmates for fear of starting the semester off with a missing assignment.

But the critiques I received, both positive and negative, are going to be essential in my revision process.

I write because I want to make my readers think, whether those are thoughts of disgust at my writing style or hopefully something a little more constructive. That’s what makes it so rewarding, the fact that it is a two-way street.

Because writing is just that – a conversation between reader and writer, in which both are giving a little bit of themselves and also taking something of value away at the same time.

And while receiving feedback certainly seems like the tough part, giving it is equally as challenging.

Mutual respect is key in the process of exchanging work in such an open environment, and it’s tough to offer suggestions to someone who trusts you enough to open up to you on such a personal level, as is usually the case with creative writing.

But although it may be difficult, they need your feedback just as much as you need theirs. Writing is not something that should ever be undertaken alone.

As C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” And since I believe the two to be symbiotic, I think that holds true for writing, as well.


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