Getting past your fear of sharing; spotting redundancy
Published: March 9, 2010
Q: I’m ready to find out what others think about my poems, but I’m afraid to share them. How can I get past this?
Sharing your work—whether in a writers’ group, among friends, or in the classroom—can be daunting. Poems and other genres of creative writing are highly personal. Even if you’re not writing about your own experiences, you’ve invested your creative energy and imagination. It can feel like you’re sending a part of yourself out to be judged.
Showing your work to others, however, is an important part of the writing process. It gives you an opportunity to see your writing through the eyes of others and to learn whether you accomplished what you intended. Good readers might even give you direction in revision and point out issues you might not have seen on your own. Many writers also find a deep satisfaction when readers connect with what they’ve written. With all these benefits, the fear of showing your work is certainly worth overcoming.
Set yourself up for success by finding a positive, constructive environment in which to share your work. Start with a situation that seems comfortable to you. You might have a few close friends read a poem and tell you what they like about it. Focusing on this kind of feedback will make the first experience a good one and help you build courage to venture deeper into this practice.
At some point, you’ll want to invite suggestions and perhaps even get involved in a more structured environment. Seek out like-minded writers or a workshop that’s geared toward your skill level. Find a group that values both support and the importance of challenging each writer toward his or her own best work.
When you receive feedback, keep in mind that other writers are trying to help you improve. Not all comments will make you feel warm and fuzzy, but being able to recognize weaknesses will help you improve. Approach all comments with objectivity. Some may seem harsh or make you bristle. Still, a suggestion to ditch the end rhyme scheme delivered in a snarky tone may be good advice. Of course, it may also be hogwash. Give yourself the opportunity to evaluate the content of the comment instead of reacting emotionally to the tone. Some writers find it useful to take notes during a discussion of their work and then return to those notes when it doesn’t feel so fresh and emotions aren’t running as high. Separating comments from who said them—or how they were said—can also help with objectivity.
Remember that the feedback you receive is about this particular poem and the choices you made in it. Just because meaning was obscure in this poem doesn’t mean it will be in every other poem you write. Separating the individual piece from the much larger questions you may have about yourself as a poet—Am I any good? Will readers love my poetry?—will make sharing your work more productive and enjoyable.
Q: A writing instructor marked an entire scene in my short story as “redundant.” How can a whole scene, with everything that goes on in one, be redundant? |
Without knowing the details of your story, I would guess your instructor marked the whole scene as “redundant” because the scene was a rehash of a previous scene. The specific actions changed, but the scene’s purpose and revelations were similar to the earlier material. This is something I commonly see in writing workshops.
For example, Joel and Winnie are in line at the grocery store. Joel eyes the young woman in front of them and is quick to help her get the bag of charcoal from her cart to the counter. This irks Winnie and she doesn’t talk to him for the rest of the day. Later in the story, Joel and Winnie go out for a nice meal and want to share a bottle of wine. Joel wants white. Winnie wants red. They bicker. Later in the story, Joel and Winnie are staying in on a Friday night. Winnie chats on the phone during a television program Joel wants to watch. He fumes until she’s off the phone and then mopes the rest of the evening. Enough is enough, already. The reader gets it: Joel and Winnie get on each other’s nerves. The reader doesn’t need three different scenarios to understand this. One is enough. The others are, as your instructor might say, redundant.
If you’re simply rehashing what’s already been established, the story will lose its momentum. A scene may reinforce what has come before, but it should also contribute something new. Perhaps Winnie says something unforgiving in one scene and Joel debates whether he’ll do the same back. They may still bicker in the next scene, but it has a new purpose: What will Joel do in response?
Is there a way to make your “redundant” scene less redundant by adding something new? Perhaps so. Or…perhaps you have already done that and your instructor just missed it.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She
was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University,
University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a
visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
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