Notes from Writing Group Members

Posted on 18 April 2011

This is my “writing tub” full of old drafts, notes from conferences I attended 6 years ago, lists of freelance markets, and a random sampling of critiques from some of the many writing groups I attended during the last decade. I’ve compiled some of these workshop comments below.

In case it’s not clear, I’m not poking fun at anyone (other than myself, of course). During workshop, I want to know when the writing is “ehhh” or if the protagonist is unbelievable or whether I successfully described store-bought baked goods. I’m grateful for every writer who offered feedback over the years — even the woman who said, “This draft is too unpolished for me to waste my time commenting on.”

Okay, maybe not her. On to the workshop comments! (Click “read more” below to continue reading after the jump.)

****

This reads exactly like a New Yorker story — meaning it has no ending.

YEAH, BABY!!! (A man wrote this next to a description of my female narrator’s body type.)

Very funny in a Mark Twainish-way.

You do know it sounds like he wishes he could sleep with his dead sister, right?

This made me cry while I was waiting for my son at the dentist!

Beautiful. She is dead, of course.

Is it just the onset of changing hormones? That would explain why I’m not getting her, as I didn’t have raging hormones as a teen … hormonal drama was not encouraged in my family.

You have some wonderful evocative imagery, however, this writing is not up to your usual crisp standard.

You wrote my favorite sentences of the month.

Doesn’t sound violent enough.

I understand it but I don’t.

Oh my Gawd! That is so funny. I worried about this, too! (Noted when a character worried her dead relative can see her having sex.)

Nice description of the classic grocery store cupcake.

Leaves don’t usually make a splash.

Is this supposed to be funny?

I’m mad at Susannah! She has no right to feel sorry for herself!

Too colloquial.

Hee hee hee.

Not sure about this line.

Not sure about this scene.

Not sure about the metaphor.

Not sure about this character.

Not sure about the ending.

????

Maybe you could use more contractions.

I didn’t walk away with anything.

Wow … heartbreakingly good. Send this out.

Love this!

Ehhhh.

Why? (The only comment on the entire story. Yes, why indeed.)

Yikes! This is great.

Anti-climactic.

This is beautiful if startling.

This is a wonderfully strange and very ambitious story.

It’s very hard for me to relate to [protagonist], which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I am a bit of an odd stick.

I see this piece as an offbeat lesson in the role of beauty and celebrity in American society through the eyes of someone who is in essence a free spirit.

The ending is superb.

Where is the ending??

I like the melancholy tone. I can hear your voice.

Too many words!

The Sweet Valley series is from a specific time period I’m not sure all readers would be familiar with. (This prompted me to realize that the Sweet Valley books are NOT in fact timeless, which, sadly, kind of blew my mind.)

Joyce Carol Oates –> you.

You obviously love the English language. You treat it with tenderness and care.

Laura, I love all your stories. You should consider getting them published as a collection! I mean that! (Someone wrote this on one of my stories back in 2006 or 2007 and I shrugged it off — I was so aware of how difficult it is to publish a debut collection of literary short fiction that the possibility wasn’t even on my radar at that time.)

…and the point is?

****

Thanks to all these critical readers for making me laugh and cringe and edit my ass off. For more (but not nearly as generous) workshop comments, see “Comments Written By Actual Students Extracted from Workshopped Manuscripts at a Major University” and “Comments on My Short Story I’ve Received From My Creative-Writing Classmates.” And if you’ve ever wondered what kind of feedback James Joyce might have received in a workshop, wonder no more!

Do you save workshop critiques? Do you have a random, disorganized writing file like I do? Did your family encourage hormonal drama?


16 responses to Notes from Writing Group Members

  • lisahgolden says:

    This is such an eye-opener for me. I don’t show my work to anyone except a couple of friends who would never offer honest assessments anyway. It’s a nice cocoon of ignorance.

    I don’t have a tub. I have flashdrives and hard drives and piles under my bed, under my nightstand and in boxes. Disorganized is the rule of the day.

    My family only does one emotion – anger. We’re comfortable with that and nothing else.

    • With all the writing groups I’ve participated in over the years, I’m afraid I’ve probably received *too many* comments, actually. But it sure makes you learn to sift through them and only use the ones that resonate with your own story/style/vision.

      And yeah, my writing tub is pretty much obsolete. I only open it now to cram in some newly critiqued pieces I might need to look at again later. Or to compile these fabulous comments, of course.

  • margosita says:

    I love these. I get a kick out of seeing them all lined up together. Though many of them are funny I really laughed at the “Too many words!” comment.

    Strangely this made me miss workshop. When I was critiquing what I thought seemed like one of the better drafts of someone’s work and didn’t have a lot of constructive comments I’d leave smiley faces when something good happened. I miss getting back that pile of work with comments, now!

    • Yes, the “Too many words!” is a favorite of mine, as well.

      I haven’t done an MFA but honestly, reading through all these random comments from years ago didn’t exactly make me eager to run out and start one. Several of the groups I participated in were very large with an ever-changing cast of participants. It can be exhausting adjusting to new critical readers and learning how/why they operate as they do and the best way to use and understand their feedback. Or maybe I’m still just grumpy from that woman who tried to tear me down for no reason whatsoever. :)

      • margosita says:

        I agree. It can be a trial, adjusting to new readers. If there is one thing I learned in the MFA is that not everyone’s opinion is created equal! Like Grumpy Woman. Even if you FEEL “This draft is too unpolished for me to waste my time commenting on”, you keep that comment to yourself and do what you can.

        If only for the karma!

  • Lyra says:

    These are freakin’ fantastic.

    If I can’t squeeze, “I’m a bit of an odd stick.” into casual conversation this week, I will be so bummed.

    My family discouraged hormonal drama, but it never stopped us…

  • Oh dear. I recognize some of these! But this is a great list. It reads like an interesting critique poem.

    Sorry about Sweet Valley High comment, btw.

    Did you see they’ve released a new, updated book of the series? Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later. I totally want to read it.

    • Your Sweet Valley comment was very helpful! And I hope you aren’t bothered by anything you recognize? (By glancing at these, beyond the Sweet Valley one, I’m not sure which might yours, if any…I didn’t take many comments from people who currently critique my work, unless they were just that good or funny or helpful.)

      I think you know how much I love your critiques. And in case you don’t: Jennifer, I love your critiques! (Everyone else: She’s taken.)

      Ah, the new Sweet Valley book. I’m kind of tempted, but based on the short excerpt posted here, the writing is more horrifying than I could even imagine.

      • No worries. I wasn’t bothered by anything I recognize. Amused is more like it. I know the tone of some you’ve posted. I can guess they may have come from members of long since abandoned writing groups (because I’ve seen the same on my stories). I admire the restraint you exercised in putting this list together ;)

        You are very sweet re: your comments. Your work is always a pleasure to read.

        Wow. That is a terrible excerpt indeed. So sad.

        • So we agree: We are both fabulous.

          I truly did approach this with nothing but good will. I enjoy many of the not-so-positive comments most of all. That New Yorker/ending comment? That’s good stuff!

  • m grimm says:

    very funny–i loved the dentist one!

  • Averil says:

    These are fabulous! I could read them all day.

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