In the imaginary ‘cone of silence,’ I nodded and scribbled notes while my Writer House classmates gave me feedback on the piece I had submitted for workshop, that dastardly Prologue to my book. Although disheartened – gushing praise would have been lovely – I thanked my classmates and hoped that I hadn’t overburdened them or embarrassed myself. Their responses proved very helpful in the following two weeks as I rethought, rewrote and revised.
In her article, Endless Writing in the American Scholar (Spring 2013), Helen Hazen wrote about deciding to write an article back in the mid-late 70’s and, after its publication, receiving a letter from Jacques Barzun who asked her to write a book. “I knew how to write an article – start with an idea and prove your point- and I assumed that this was also the general method from writing a book… in practice the two exercises are distressingly different.” And so began a writing relationship between Hazen and Barzun, in some ways similar to my workshop experience as I continue to transition from academic writing to creative non-fiction.
What a gift of time and expertise Barzun gave to Hazen. Draft after draft, he guided his protégé, editing her pages “like an angry bull – angered because wanting to know your thought and baffled by the hazards and obstacles you put up…” And offering points of advice: “When you have this menu for your guest’s dinner, stick to the contents of each course as you serve it – no strawberries in the soup…”
So I cut the strawberries out of my soupy Prologue (the first part), gave the storyteller a strong voice, kept the inner-theater voices, for they are mine, and let honesty take the reigns.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be in the ‘cone of silence’ again, this time with a different Writer House group critiquing the revised Prologue. I look forward to their feedback. No doubt there’ll be more “endless writing” before my manuscript goes public, and when that happens, a range of Amazon ratings. I plan to read the reviews, take them for what they’re worth and respond with grace.
And not to burst into tears – how embarrassing!
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