apocalyptic writing feedback

I got workshopped today. It was okay. Kind of what I expected, with some helpful suggestions. And the instructor pointed out one of my horrible writing tics/habits that I have yet to overcome (my tendency to overstate –to which she asked, “I’m taking it that you’re making this a YA (young adult) novel?”–I replied, “NO. You’re horrifying me with that comment though!”). But I had to know these things–it was all good and useful.

But one student came up to me afterwards and said “What you did with your narration and how you overstate things reminded me of Dan Brown’s writing.”

*blink*

You know, Dan Brown as in the author of the insipid “DaVinci Code.” Dan Brown, as in the modern example of horrible writing. She said THAT, after our conversation a couple weeks ago on exactly the same topic–of how I abhorred Dan Brown and think he’s the worst writer known writer out there. So I can’t say she didn’t know how this would affect me.
I’m never going to forget THAT feedback EVER.

In hindsight I wish I had said, with the same smile she had on her face, “You know, you LOOK like a nice person….!”

But instead all I did was squirm and say “I can’t believe you said that–that…that that is so rude!”

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8 Comments

Filed under MFA, The Novel, Writing

8 responses to “apocalyptic writing feedback

  1. vintagefan

    ‘you overstate things’ could still be ok but ‘you overstate things like dan brown’ now that’s reeally IS disheartening.But she’s just another student, so don’t take it personal.

  2. that’s really funny, but if someone had said that to me i would have knocked them in the jaw. i applaud your restraint. this person sounds like a nightmare.

  3. mel

    I second samchase. “You remind me of Dan Brown”??! – Them’s fightin’ words…

  4. zditty

    I’ve said this to my wife before, and I don’t know if this helps. Dan Brown writes a style of novel that’s marked by bad writing. Dean Koontz writes the sme kind of (build tension with short chapters) style. Brown is, in my opinion, better than Koontz.

    Are you writing a thriller? Maybe that’s what those floks meant? I don’t know. Don’t let them get you down.

  5. I can see why you’re not finding workshop inspiring, by the way. 🙂

    I don’t know. Some people are really lazy with their comparisons, or just feel compelled to find something to compare every workshopped piece to. Early on, I kept getting told my writing reminded people of William Gibson’s. Why? Because I had a penchant for slightly lyrical SF… but I was writing stuff *totally* different from him, and not even cyberpunkish.

    But you might look at your work to see if you *are* indeed overstating things. Me, I used to understate them badly, or worse, go for deeply idiosyncratic references to really obscure things. My old poetry group really tore their hair out with m about that, until I finally got it, what I was doing and how it was affecting how they read my stuff.

    If, after you look and eradicate whatever you think is overstatement, people still complain, then I suggest you disregard them and focus on other things. Workshops are designed to require criticism, and people scramble for it in ways they wouldn’t when just reading a text. It can be useful, if you’re chasing a higher standard, but there’s such a thing as trying too hard.

    *shrug*

  6. Coincidentally, I just read a fabulous interview with Francine Prose where workshops were discussed. I am loving her new book (Reading Like a Writer).
    ———–
    The writing workshop and the way it’s structured, is something that’s pretty easy to poke fun at. When Swenson, the writing teacher in Blue Angel, is trying to stop someone from ripping somebody’s heart out and saying, “No we’re going to say something nice first—”

    I can’t remember if I come right out and say it in the novel, but there’s something essentially sadistic about the whole process. I mean, to sit there and have the love of your life—your work—something that close to your heart and soul, just ripped apart by strangers…

    And not to be able to say anything.

    Yes—and not be able to say anything. Who thought that up? It’s so cruel. And everybody essentially knows it’s so cruel, but that’s one of the many things you’re not allowed to say. This whole language of euphemism has sprung up around the inability to be honest. You can’t say, “This just bored the hell out of me.” So instead you say, desperately, “I think you should show instead of tell.” Where’d that come from? I mean, tell that to Jane Austen!

    There is this common vocabulary that comes out of the MFA program – the “show don’t tell.”

    “Whose story is this?”

    “What’s the occasion?”

    “What’s at stake here for the characters?”

    If you go into an MFA program you’re going to come out with this vocabulary, even if you don’t necessarily become a better writer.

    Well, yeah, because the fact is that when someone says, “What’s at stake here?” what they may mean is, “Why would anyone waste their time writing this crap?”, but no one’s going to say that, thank God.

  7. appreciating all your thoughts on the concept of Workshops–I have always thought them the “ideal” teaching format for creative writing, but in this last semester of my MFA program, am having second thoughts! these doubts arose long before my own workshop, just by witnessing the process for others this semester.

    i have had my share of very harsh criticism, and over the years, i now prefer instructors who are very fair but very honest and if need be, brutal with feedback (as opposed to flattering and even worse, patronizing. kindness, when it comes to my writing, can kill progress). one of these beloved instructors has told me about my tendency to doubt both the reader and my writing–which results in my tendency to repeat the obvious, because either i dno’t think the reader will “get it” or because i don’t think i’m effective enough the first time around. so. i’m cool with the feedback.

    but not with the dan brown comment! 🙂

  8. akrypti

    Thanks Jade. More stuff making me not want to go for the MFA. Right now my cat workshops my short stories. And my cat thinks I’m brilliant.

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