Workshop, v.

I accept, sometimes even embrace, the fact that if a language is to survive it must continue to change and expand (e.g., derp, holla, selfie, twerk, nah); I must therefore also accept that some of these changes will not be attractive ones (e.g., irregardless (def: regardless), literally (def: figuratively)).

Generally speaking, I am repelled by the “verbification” of nouns: journal, v.; workshop, v., leverage, v.; and the reverse is also often horrible: learns, n., as in “We got a lot of good learns out of our workshop today.”

Classic Get Fuzzy.
Classic Get Fuzzy.

Workshopping—in which a number of people whose fitness for writing as a profession cannot be assumed get together regularly, usually under the direction or tutelage of a professional writer and/or writing instructor, to critique/discuss/hopefully not eviscerate one another’s work—is a very stupid, ugly, and unwieldy word that I can’t even think about without placing it in quotation marks. But it is a useful activity.

Until quite recently, I thought I’d write a memoir about a particularly looming, dreadful, but also in many ways hilarious, part of my life. To force my own hand, I signed up for “Writing the Memoir,” offered through the U of T’s continuing education arm.

The class is half over now and I’ve written two pieces for it, one of which has been “workshopped” already; the next will go under the microscope next week. I’ve learned two important things so far:

1) Having people you don’t know and whose taste in books and writing you mostly don’t share is a Very Good Thing. With no particular bias in favour of the same things that I’m biased towards when it comes to writing, and without knowing me at all and so unable to unconsciously fill in any gaps in my writing, my classmates are ideal critics. Having no idea what I mean or am trying to do makes them the most qualified audience to tell me if I’m succeeding or not.

2) I don’t think I want to write a memoir after all; at least, I really don’t want to right now. And it’s not just because I don’t find myself as interesting as I thought I did when I signed up for the class, although I wouldn’t say that’s minor! I also don’t think I can do justice to my idea at this point, nor can I bring myself to try to write a book I would be so entirely uninterested in reading were it written by someone else.

All this is to the good, because I think I’m better equipped now to write with other people, readers who don’t inhabit my brain in some essential way (my husband, my bff), in mind. Taking this class and coming to these conclusions has also cleared some of the clutter preventing me from trying my hand at fiction again, which has always been and will always be my first love, for ever and ever, amen.

But maybe I’m wrong about fiction being the thing, too! If so, I don’t mind. (I haven’t discounted the essay, for example; maybe if I discuss myself in small, less personal, doses, it would work.) I’m enjoying the exploratory aspect of all this; there’s fortifying comfort, somehow, in being unsure but with purpose.

Getting there.
Getting there.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara Ellis says:

    Your essay put me in mind of one by David Foster Wallace that I have just read in a collection I had been loaned and found forthwith on Open Culture You may well be familiar with this fine discussion of English usage and its hazards, but if you are not, you are in for a treat.

    1. Colleen says:

      I must confess that I have read nothing by DFW and that I have not read anything by DFW for one specific reason: all his books seem to have been published by book designers with a hate-on for margins. I will try to get over this because I know I’ve been missing out.

  2. Stefanie says:

    For the longest time when people began sending text messages and called it “texting” I resisted, I refused to say texting. But now I say it all the time. If I didn’t I would get weird looks. So I totally understand and got a good laugh from the Get Fuzzy cartoon. Glad you learned some interesting things from your memoir class. I hope your refocus onto fiction writing bears fruit!

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