This semester I enrolled in Susan Bell’s Fiction Workshop. It runs like most MFA workshops–write material, present it to a classroom of peers, and then a week later listen to their comments/critiques. Bell’s class however, unlike other workshops, has two twists: the first is during the break we stretch and do yoga; the second is that her class focuses on teaching us how to be Editors. I suggest you read her book, “The Artful Edit,” for more detail on how to be an editor for yourself, and for others; as well as to read a sound argument on the need to gain perspective from your own work.
What I will say is this, given a lot of the students in the class aim for careers in academia, the art of effectively critiquing another’s work will come as an enormous benefit. “Don’t ever tell a student, ‘I loved this character’, or that you didn’t that part,” Bell warned us on the first day of class. “How you felt when reading a piece is based on what you have read and enjoyed before. Say, instead, what worked and what didn’t work, and then be specific about why.” Essentially: Is this piece the best that it can be, as is, by being itself? Of course, another benefit to taking her workshop, for the arrow-heads in the class who know for sure Writer is the only thing we want to be, it has taught us to listen to our own work more carefully, and not simply bully it into some preconceived notion–preconceived, not in the sense of intention, but in the sense of prejudice. Again, read her book for specific examples of this in literary history.
In chapter 1 of “The Artful Edit” you will find this week’s exercise. Attached is my response.
What’s yours? Leave it as a comment below.
1. Name one or two of your favorite books and explain why you love them.
2. Reflect: Do you read with standards of quality or an agenda of taste?