I attended my very first writing workshop through a creative writing Meetup here in Auckland last week, and I, unfortunately, will not return … I think. First and foremost, my disappointment surfaced almost immediately. Upon acceptance into this “Private Group,” I received a message from the cohost of the group, Sharon (not her real name, for obvious reasons), and the thing read as follows: “Hi [Iya], we’re looking forward to meeting you tomorrow! We usually end up sitting at the front of Gloria Jeans at one of the big tables (please note that it’s the Gloria Jeans closest to the Central Library, not the other one on the same street). Also, members tend to turn up a few minutes earlier, and you can spot us by our telltale sheets of A4. No pressure to bring anything, and feel free to hit me up if you have any questions or concerns. Cheers, [Sharon]” Please note the “members tend to turn up a few minutes earlier” as an obvious statement of her attempt to exert her authority. Well, I’m sorry to say it, but of all the people who attended that particular meeting, Sharon arrived late, quite late. I suppressed my laughter at the obviousness of her embarrassment as she seated herself next to me.
As the afternoon progressed, the reality of the group’s abilities became abundantly clear as I edited the unreadable, had to explain the difference between the possessive form of “your” against the conjugation of “you” and “are,” and ultimately could not even follow the plot of the final piece due to the use of an ungodly amount of colons, which included but was not limited to the use of two colons, at two very distinct places, within the same sentence. If you’re curious, I printed off an old writing exercise to bring to this very first meeting with new people because, let’s be honest, I’m not going to share my true work with a group of strangers. You can access the nonfiction exercise here. The feedback I received on the piece was tri-fold and both simultaneously glowing and disrespectful.
The first fold includes the verbal feedback, which, mixed with awe and feigned comprehension, proved itself somewhat helpful. I understood what they (the people who spoke) meant, in the sense that the speaker or point-of-view of the writing is a bit lost. I get it. It was a timed writing exercise written in the cold of winter back in Seoul that I have yet to revisit. Everyone seemed to believe the piece to be well-written with “good imagery.” The second fold, however, revealed itself to be far more sinister. The host of the Meetup argued that no place like this existed, and especially not in Colorado (at the beginning of the Meetup, the group had inquired where we [my partner and I] had hailed from within the United States, but they had all failed to inquire further about me and my life, and so, missed the overwhelming import of the essay having been written in Seoul, South Korea, the place from where I had moved to New Zealand). The cohost of the Meetup stated that it was impossible to feel the rumble of anything in a seven-story building, unless perhaps, in her words, the person was severely handicapped and sitting still all day within their apartment. Lest not forget the rage-inducing motions/actions she included with this “critique.” All of this, by the way, happened amongst themselves, in my presence. They were essentially talking behind my back while I sat within the same space. And finally, all of the written feedback and scribbles on my printed off copies validated the obvious, none of them had actually attended a college-level writing workshop, which meant that this creative writing Meetup is less academic and more egoic, a circle-jerk for the uninspired.
Let me be clear, I do not write this review of my first writing-Meetup experience out of spite or anger, but simply out of wonder. I actually, as crazy as this might sound, enjoyed myself. The experience enlightened me to this sort of thing existing. My ultimate issue with this group hinges on the fact that they all proved themselves incapable of reading with an open mind, which begs the question, are they incapable of living their lives with an open mind? The host wrote, “Really great way to end the story …” emphasis mine. It’s not a story. I informed the group that the piece was a work of nonfiction. Another member wrote, “whats a throughway?” Yes, this was the same person who needed your explained to her. Another, “So now its not noon? Different word to differentiate it from a real sunset?” Another, “The first sentence is very long – break it up.” Why? For what purpose, aside from your discomfort with its length? And finally, they all at some point, crossed out words and either chose different words for me or simply decided that the piece sounded better without them. For instance, in the sentence, “The old man of the old couple …” nearly all of them crossed out “of the old couple,” which would no longer make any sense if the reader had been reading it with the nonfiction genre in mind to realize that the food stuffs booth is not run by an old man. It’s run by an old couple, and the old man of the old couple is the one who opens the stall’s gate each day.
The issues I hold against these “edits” revolve around the fact that the members, in total, seemed oblivious to the writing workshop mentality. In my mind, a writing workshop is a place where a person goes to present his/her writing to open minds, thoughtful readers, and fellow writers. A quick aside, who shows up to a writing workshop without a piece of writing? Sure, maybe you feel uncomfortable sharing, but the discomfort is part of the process. Yes, of course, proofreading deems itself essential, but the editing of content, the choosing of words, the determining of paragraph length and sentence structure should all be presented as questions, through the perception of the reader. A writing workshop should not be a place where other writers write your writing. It, at least to me, ought to be a place where a writer may hear the way in which his/her writing is perceived by readers who happen to also be writers. If you need assistance in plot development or suggestions about the content, then you lack imagination. If, however, the readers of your writing are not comprehending your writing in the way that you intended it to be comprehended, then yes, by all means, use your audience to help better understand where you’re going wrong with the words and structure you choose.
And thus, my question arises to my fellow writers. Are you having a hard time finding fellow writers (who actually write, a lot and often) who are capable of reading your work intelligently and who are capable of articulating how it is that they perceive your work without being so full of their own egos that they cannot determine your writing to be “correct” because it was not written the way that they would write it, which ultimately deems all of their attempted criticisms moot through the superficial ways in which they express themselves? If you are having this problem, please message me. I’d like to not feel so alone in this; writing is a lonely enough endeavor.