Tuesday, June 17, 2008

to show or not to show

There seems to be a debate on when to start letting others read your work. In other words, at what point in the drafting process is it ok to start getting some feedback? It was the question I posed to Andre Dubus at QRB, and he says he doesn't do it at any time during the early drafting stages. Ditto for Stephen King. Their reasoning is one I can certainly understand. To use Andre's metaphor, you don't pull the baby out of the womb mid-gestation just to check up on it.

But here's the thing: I wasn't trained as a creative writer. I was trained in rhetoric and composition. And I was trained to teach the writing process to fledgling student writers. Part of that process is peer review. And it takes place throughout the entire drafting process, first drafts included. Many students don't like peer review because they're sharing their work at the messy stage, when it lacks poise and direction and information and structure. I think they equally don't like to turn in their work before it's final. And yet, few students understand the concept of revision. It's hard, at that level, to re-see if you don't look at others' writing, or let others look at yours, and see what's happening in theirs.

I've just turned our manuscript over to my writers group. And since this discussion came up, I've been second-guessing the decision to do so. By King's standards, it's too soon. Funny enough, when I emailed the manuscript, I made all kinds of apologies for weak spots, underdeveloped scenes, poor transitioning, etc. I had to keep saying, "it's a first draft." As if I was doing the critiquing for them! And yet, I think it's a pretty damn good first draft. I think it could use a little feedback.
Or maybe not yet...

Makes me wonder though... if you take a creative writing class, and your teacher says, don't show your work before it's been revised, then what do you turn in along the way? I remember taking a creative writing class when I was 20. We had an assignment every week, and we took turns sharing our stuff. But I don't remember any revision. I don't remember discussions about audience, purpose, etc. And Lord knows some of those pieces could've used some help along the way.

Maybe creative writing and college writing really are two different beasts when it comes to process and composition. Maybe I just need to reconcile the two? Haven't I already done that? I've married them, really. Are they not compatible? I don't know.

Nevertheless, the manuscript is in their hands, and we're moving forward.


Susan said...

I don't think creative writing and composition are really that different. Ultimately, the decision to hand over a draft is a personal one, and it has to be at a time that is comfortable for the writer. And the reviewers need to know what they're looking at.

In a composition class, we give deadlines, so the process is forced. But students bring stuff at all different stages. Some students might come with a really rough first draft. Others might come with something they've already read, revised, and polished a little because they're not comfortable sharing the messy first draft (and sometimes that decision is made by procrastination, but that's a different story). It's a personal decision. And the "turning over" point might be different for every writer--and it might change, the more comfortable you get with your own writing (and with having others read it in various stages).

If you find yourself apologizing for what you wrote, or trying too hard to direct your reviewers, maybe it's too soon. But as long as you're okay with handing your work over, and you're open to the suggestions you might receive at an early stage, and your reviewers know what they're reading and are comfortable with being sincere--I think that's what matters.

And I think there's a certain amount of vulnerability at stake at any stage.

Not sure if I'm giving any answers, but you've raised a lot of good questions for me. :)

The Purple Panda said...

Excellent points and perspectives, Susan. And actually, one of the reasons why I share my drafts in various stages with my students(including the messy ones) is because I believe it's important to be willing to show the same vulnerability as we ask them to do, sometimes against their will.

In hindsight, I think it was too soon to turn the entire manuscript over to the group, especially since I hadn't had a chance to read through the entire thing myself. (In fact, last night I was thinking about taking it back from them!) I did it initially because I'm so excited about this book. But as I read through it, especially those first awful 30 pages, I regretted it. But a lot of that is likely me and my perfectionism coming out.

Overall, I need to trust my group (which I do), and get my ego out of the way. They know what kind of writer I am. And they know what they're reading. In the future, I might not be so hasty. But having this particular group of readers is a plus.