If you can’t say something nice, come sit by me.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt brutalized by a workshop, but it’s amazing how long one can carry around particular barbs that hit too close to home. For years, my blood pressure rose at the memory of having a story labeled “chick lit” by someone in a workshop. The most galling aspect of the charge was my own recognition of the story element that prompted it. I just thought I’d managed to transcend it somehow. (Nope.)

A workshop develops its own vibe. At worst, retribution foments, or the crit serves mainly to reinforce the ego of the reader and not to assist the writer. Teaching helped me to be a better reader, but just getting out of the program did, too. Now my general approach is to attempt to both describe and understand the project underway, then to point out to the best of my ability craft-related choices that are supporting or undermining the project as I’ve interpreted it. Personal response (to the writer or the story) is totally irrelevant to this approach, which is the main thing it’s taken me so long to overcome.

EXCEPT. I recently allowed a personal grudge and a lousy attitude toward a writer’s current level of development to inform my response to his/her work. I’m regressing! What the — ?

Someone once told me that I have a “friendly face,” and while I may look and act as if I’m more or less nice, under it all, I am both prickly and bitchy (INTJ FTW). I work hard to maintain a veneer of civility, but in this instance and several others recently, this veneer has chuffed off to reveal my uglier side, a side not especially sensitive to the feelings of others. Is it possible that the hormonal shifts of pregnancy are contributing to these episodes? Maybe; but I’m not writing this to make excuses for my behavior. This is penance.

Ugh. I am so annoyed with myself. The writer in question will no doubt go on to publish widely, sell well, and get great reviews, while I churn out le dreck from the sweet, sweet echo chamber of my ivory tower (aka writing nook). As for the people at work who have seen my ugly side – I don’t even know. There’s this. Or I guess I could just make a concerted effort to be a better person?


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