Okay, so you have 175 pages of a novel and you are looking at this Table Rock Writers Workshop. No way in a class of six or ten people are you going to get feedback on all those pages, you tell yourself. No way are you going to reveal yourself on the page to so many total strangers.
Still, you crave a reader. Someone to tell you that you are on the right path. But you’ve already been in a writing group where everybody shared pages with each other and suddenly you realized you are reading these dozens and dozens of pages and marking on them, and your mates are giving you a half dozen versions of your pages back with marks all over them. And the opinions vary widely. They contradict. Cancel each other out. Some are potshots. Some are unkind. You have been burned already, thank you very much.
You are confused and overwhelmed. You think about building a fire with all those pages. Even in this heat.
This is where the Table Rock philosophy comes to your aid. That is, if you are willing. You will come to the mountain for a few days. You will have a sympathetic and serious teacher who has managed to finish and publish a book. She eats with a fork just like you do and spills her grits on her blouse one morning. She seems human, approachable.
You have a half dozen folks in your workshop of varying degrees of finished, unfinished, hopeful and discouraged. You are drawn to some and put off by others.
Each of them has something to teach you.
So here’s the secret: the workshop format we provide at Table Rock is about learning to get outside yourself and help others. You follow your instructor’s lead. You listen fiercely to another person’s work and offer your honest reactions. You learn to lean into the material, observing what worked and what didn’t.
It is much easier to comment on another’s work. Well, duh. To be helpful is a skill you will practice every day at Table Rock. You don’t tell someone how to fix it. Instead you try to ask open and honest questions about what the author’s intention is for that scene or story and make room for the author to think about it–to come to his own solutions. Yes, it’s a bit like therapy. You are there to help your colleague find his or her own answers in this journey called a story or novel or poem.
And once you learn to be genuinely helpful to another writer, the closer you can come to objectivity about your own work. Suddenly you begin to see your patterns. Because surely the verbal tics and patterns that are screaming at you in another person’s work are probably your own worst habits. Murder your darlings, as Faulkner said.
So why come to the mountain? Because it is more blessed to give than to receive. For real.
And when you go home, you will slowly unpack the riches you carried down the mountain among your notes and papers. And in the solitude of your workplace you will begin to move forward with a new awareness and confidence. And those of us who were with you will still be there, right behind your chair, rooting for you and your book-to-be.