I recently attended the Creative Ink Writing Festival in Burnaby, B.C., Canada. It was a weekend full of great energy, on-going learning opportunities, and networking with my peers.
The event is one that is inexpensive (about $50 for the weekend) and run exclusively by volunteers. Even the majority of the presenters are volunteer. The philosophy is about inclusivity–after all, not everyone can afford to lay out hundreds of dollars for a weekend conference. It also provides an opportunity for the presenters to give back to the writing community.
I presented a workshop on freelance writing and sat on panels offering advice on things from short stories to rejection to kick starting your writing. It was exhilarating to be able to share what I’ve learned over the years but it was doing the red pencil sessions that I enjoyed the most.
For a red-pencil session, a writing sample is provided in advance of the meeting (this is unlike the blue-pencil session where there is no critique preparation beforehand). I had five very different writers submit their works. I was blown away not only by their talent but also by their willingness to listen and discuss possible changes.
I know from experience that it’s not easy to put your work out there for critique. I fight the knee-jerk reaction of defensiveness about my own work and have learned over the years that being open to at least listening to others opinions can often makes the work stronger and more accessible.
My immediate reaction (which I keep pushed down and silent) is: “You don’t get it! You don’t understand what I’m writing about and you definitely don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It’s funny because we’ll lap up the praise but not want to discuss the things that need tweaking. It’s a fact of life that over the course of a writing career one has to develop a thick skin. It goes without saying that not everyone will like your style of writing, the delivery of your communications, and/or the content of what you have to say. This goes for whether you’re critiquing or being critiqued.
Recently, I received this email from Katherine Koller, one of the red-pencils I did.
“Hi Faye. We met briefly for a Red Pencil at Creative Ink. I wanted to follow up to let you know that I tried my novel opening in first person and at the funeral as you suggested, and my writing group gave it a thumbs up! They have not liked any of the other versions I brought previously, but loved this one. This made my week, because I have been struggling with overloading that first chapter (as you know) and now I have a way forward. Thank you so much for the suggestion….”
This made my day! Katherine is a very experienced writer and professor at the University of Alberta. It’s a reminder to me that we can all help each other as we use a different lens to see. To receive praise or thanks in any way is not only a bonus but is invigorating and affirming. Thank you Katherine.
Katherine is planning a May workshop on dialogue in Chase, B.C. (near Kamloops). Check her website http://www.katherinekoller.ca if you’re interested.