I didn’t find it necessary to tear down what other students had accomplished. I’m too much of an optimist for that. Usually, I took note of how they’d successfully pulled off a technique so I could try it sometime. My measure of my writing was how much I’d improved, not comparing it to other students’ writing. Don’t think I’m too good to be true! In the beginning, if I hadn’t found some other way to evaluate my writing, it would have been too depressing.
I had a hard time deciding if I should use someone’s comments or not. For the exercise during the workshop in Italy, the students didn’t offer any ways to improve what I’d written. I think that’s one way to know. My Fiction Technique teacher had told us that telling someone that you don’t like a story or that it doesn’t work is not constructive. I think she was tactfully telling us that the purpose of such comments is not to help us improve.
As I noted in the chapter about my first workshop, I didn’t want to accept someone’s comment that I was using too many metaphors. Eventually, I did when I understood that the writing was too self-conscious, it detracted from the story. I received some similar comments in the Florence workshop that I had no trouble accepting, even though I was disappointed. Time had helped me reevaluate the comment. I still find that if I’m not sure about a comment (or even if I think I am!), giving myself some space does help me understand what the comments might mean. I’ve also been steadily improving so that’s helped too.
In Italy, I think Alice appreciated the writing in my new first chapter except that she said quite calmly that she didn’t think that I would want to start my book with the material. The chapter was in first person and she thought it would be hard for me to maintain the point of view all the way through the book. Looking back on her comment, I understand what she was saying more than I did then. Just yesterday, I went to a reading of a middle grade book at the Baltimore bookstore Red Canoe. The book was Murder Afloat by Jane Leslie Conly, a writer from the Baltimore area that graduated from the Hopkins Seminars. She talked about how she’d initially wondered if she could write from a guy’s point of view for an entire book. As it turned out, she found that it hadn’t been so hard after all and no one has commented about the point of view for this book or the other that she wrote from a male point of view.
I actually haven’t had trouble writing from different points of view. Maybe my little bit of acting here and there when I was growing up helped me out or maybe the different gender, different age, even different race doesn’t really matter as long as you do your research. Once I even wrote an experimental story about a black teenager.
Ironic to say one of them was experimental when all of my short stories were experiments where I tried different techniques! The experimental part was about how he observed himself at different ages and the way I used a metaphor, “white shit” to signal the transitions between different points in time. The story was published in Infinity’s Kitchen.
I felt comfortable writing about from a black person’s point of view because I’d been helping out with a writing group at a grade school where the students that I worked with the most just happened to be black. There was one girl in particular who said that she didn’t know why people had to call her black. That really stuck in my mind and the story grew out of what she’d said. I also had the benefit of having my story critiqued by a couple of black colleagues in a workshop so I felt that it had come off well. I would worry about doing a whole book from a black person’s point of view though. Even if I could write it effectively, I don’t think it would be publishable because no one would feel that I had the authority to write such a book. But that is more about our social condition than the ability of anyone to write from different points of view.