Friday, November 14, 2008

MFA Workshop

I'm feeling kind of gypped. In the workshop I'm taking we only work on two stories a piece. As I understand it from the blogs I'm reading, other people are going up for workshop three or four times in a semester. We're also only reading one book of short stories at this point. While I appreciate the free time and the fact that it allows me to read what I want instead of reading what someone else wants, I'm feeling kind of deprived.

Around here the poets go up for workshop every other week, but not so for the fiction writers. It could be the faculty member I'm taking class with, or this could be how things are done around here. I'll have to ask about the specifics on that.

But mostly my feeling of being gypped comes from the fact that I thought I was going to put a certain story up for my final workshop in December -- I thought it was going to be "Cake" -- but on Monday our instructor said he wanted to see more stories that took place not just in one or two days but were spread out over months or years -- which is frankly tougher to write and annoying to read in my opinion, but whatev, if that's what he wants to read then that's what he wants to read. I think his desire comes from being an editor for years, whenever he gets too much of one thing he desires to see something else -- but that's completely speculation.

He also requested "clockless" stories a la Charles D'Ambrosia, meaning that there is no "ticking clock" or other time device placed on the situation. These "clockless" stories frequently manifest as stories where stuff happens but you have no idea what's changed, a manifestation that drove me nuts as an undergrad when I was trying hard to craft stories where something changed because I was being taught that a change makes a story. Well apparently in literary fiction you can subvert that rule and if the New Yorker publishes you then you're a genius and if no one publishes you then you're an idiot who didn't follow the rule about stuff changing in a story.

This brings me to my point where I want three workshops instead of two. I've already used one, and now I had thought I wanted to put a new draft of an older story up for workshop. Now, with this directive being issued about time and clocks I'm drafting something new. Something that is new but at the same time very old. It appears that whenever I try something new I jump back into my interior voice. That inner monologue that runs through my brain: sarcastic, snippy, young female. This was the only voice I wrote in college because it was the only one I could write with any authority or authenticity. Then this past summer at Kenyon, Brad Kessler wouldn't let me write in the first person (not for aesthetic reasons but because he was pushing me) and I developed this very removed, short, choppy voice that lent itself to eerie writing. I was intrigued with the voice and thought to keep it up. The new voice has allowed me to tackle characters that aren't 20-something and uppity women, which caused me to jump for joy -- I could broaden my range and not write cliche stories! Yea!

But I'm annoyed at all these guys pushing me around on the voice issue. Trying to compare the new voice to minimalism and giving me statements like "I'd be interested to see that" about the old voice.


[woah, that was grumpy, sarcastic teenage-me making a comeback just now]

It's probably for the best. It'll probably lead me to find my true, natural, authentic voice, or some such zen shit. In the mean time, it feels like I'm being pushed around.

And I'll probably write the new thing that fits to the instructor's desires rather than workshopping the thing I want feedback on. I made a pro con list so that I wouldn't feel like I was selling out or brown nosing.

Cons of writing and workshopping new material:
  • Feeling like a sell out
  • Feeling like a brownnoser
  • Start doubting whether I can find any value in my work if someone else doesn't value it (that's heavy shit)
  • Need to write and entire new piece
  • Don't really know what exactly I write about
  • I won't get feedback on the old story

  • Writing new material means not sitting on my thumbs
  • A forced deadline for new work
  • Trying something new
  • I tend to perform surprisingly well under constraints (e.g. write something "clockless")
  • I think I already know all the things this group would say about the old story (and it wouldn't be a confetti fest)
  • I'm not invested in this new piece the way I'm invested in the old one
  • I like shocking people, and a sudden change of voice would be shocking to them
  • I need new material; the old stories are feeling stale

Guess that's it. Guess I've talked myself into writing new material without feeling like a sell out that writes only to please others. I need something fresh and I need some reason to write new material and not just edit "Cake" four million times. Although I will be editing "Cake" and asking some people to read/workshop it outside of workshop.

Highly Recommended