Working it out

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So there was a story about a sculptor under discussion at the most recent meeting of the writing group I participate in.  Someone who was in an MFA workshop with the writer mentioned that, responding to an earlier draft of the story, a faculty member declaimed that writers who write about artists are trying to work something out for themselves (artistically?).

The tone in which this info was shared, and my personal experience with the faculty member in question, suggest that the statement was probably pejorative. If nothing else, it contains the implication that the writer is somehow immature, ie that mature work is written from a place of detached wisdom about the human condition, by a fully evolved and self-actualized individual.

I’m just running with the most negative connotations possible here, because why the hell not. It was such a condescending thing to say, am I right? What writer isn’t trying to work something out for him or herself when sitting down to wrestle with a story? “Working things out” indicates to me a level of investment that I think is important. I’ve written stories in which I’m not invested. They occupy a sucking black hole in my hard drive. It is only my actual investment in other stories that keeps them from being absorbed into the quagmire.

Maybe I sound defensive. It could be because my novel is about an artist. But the fact that I’m trying to work things out for myself through this project is hardly the private agenda of my subconscious, as I discovered week after week when bringing early chapters to workshop myself. To write is to come to know oneself, in sometimes unexpected and not-at-all obvious ways. My characters bear little resemblance to me, and yet they’re all me, refracted through the lens of fiction.

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2 responses to “Working it out

  1. Hear hear! Absolutely it’s condescending, and absolutely the writer has a right to “work things out.” Some of the best writing comes out of that self-exploration. I’ve never agreed with making judgments on the writer based on their writing– especially if the writing is fictional. If anything, everything we write ought to be personal, in that even if we aren’t working on is nothing like ourselves, it ends up being a self-exploration of what we feel about that subject.

  2. FB is spoiling me! I want an option to like your comment, but WordPress won’t let me. Well said.

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