I originally wrote this piece as a starting point for a community discussion here on Brave and Reckless about what it means to put ourselves out there as writers. It is my opinion that we risk both our writing egos and often pieces of our soul when we publish our writing. I would love to hear about your experiences. What has been rewarding? What has been challenging? What fears do you still need to overcome?
My first creative writing class. We have submitted single pieces for small group workshop but it is time for full class workshop. 6 to 8 pages of writing. I mull it over and finally decide to submit some of the writing I have been working on about PTSD. About my experiences as a sexual abuse survivor. I know it is a risk. Most of my classmates are 18 to 22. The material workshopped so far has mostly been fiction but poetry and prose are my primary language. I do not sugar coat my life. Even the pieces told from third person are intense. Visceral. This is deliberate—PTSD is experienced in the body, not just the mind. I want the reader to understand this. To experience this. My story telling is not linear. PTSD is not linear. Healing is not linear. It feels like a sine wave to me. I know it will be challenging for my classmates . I decide to be brave. I decide to be reckless. I submit these pieces of my soul. Then I wait anxiously for the written feedback we will receive before class then the more unnerving experience of the in-class workshop where I am only allowed to be the fly on the wall, the elephant in the middle of the room, silent.
Much of the written feedback from my classmates is technical. “Show don’t tell.” Disagreement erupts about my choices of line breaks—the class is split on whether they are too choppy or not choppy enough. One of classmates feels like my titles are misleading. I roll my eyes a little at this one. “The Name They Call Her” is about the experience of being called bitch at age 12, at age 16 simply because I tried to claim my body for myself. Child Welfare was the name of the class I was sitting in when the fateful film was shown. Another suggests economy of words—probably the most helpful feedback I receive the whole semester and try to put into practice. Several thank me for tackling such difficult terrain and talk about how the pieces made them feel. This is gratifying, eases some of my anxiety.
The feedback that has stood out for throughout the months is “A suggestion for this piece is to vary the emotional experiences of the characters. Allow them to sometimes feel happy and sometimes sad, sometimes angry and sometimes at peace. The reader will be pulled into the piece more if the subjects of the stories are multi-dimensional.” I am sure this feedback is well intended. Perhaps even helpful if I had more emotional distance from the material.
But all I can hear ringing in my ears is “I would like you and your poems better if you smiled more.”
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