My worst nightmare in school has occurred. Glad to have that out of the way.
This week we had a writing workshop with Corby Kummer, a well-known food writer in the US and editor of The Atlantic’s Food Channel. He asked us to write a three-page piece about a food producer and have it ready for critique.
On the second day he discussed our pieces, citing them either for the excellent qualities they possessed or as examples of What Not to Do.
With regards to some writing that fell into the latter category, he declared to the class that it sounded “like it was written for a magazine for women in their twenties and is full of clichés.” He then read the article’s opening paragraph aloud, and I realized with horror that it was my opening paragraph, they were my words. It was happening, that thing I most feared – criticism in a public setting, and not being good at something I so badly wanted to be. My cheeks burned hot, then cold, and breakfast threatened to come up.
Resisting the urge to crawl under my desk and assume the fetal position, I waited for my ‘one-on-one with Corby time’ and began writing this blog. As soon as it happened, I for some reason had the incredible urge to share my humiliation with the entire world (or rather, my parents and small circle of friends who read this). I was finally called in for my chat. I walked into the room and managed, with difficulty, to hold back tears as he talked. I listened to what he said, wrote it all down, then relaxed ever so slightly when he found the paragraph – the one paragraph – that made him say “I know you can write. So why aren't you writing like this?”
Failure. Why must it exist? To make me better, I know, and that is why I’m here. I came to school to be criticized, hear harsh words, and see if I still have it within myself to keep on writing.
Fortunately, I do. My innately stubborn side rose up and went to battle, fuelling an intense and terrifying re-write; before lunch I marched back to Corby and asked him what he thought of my new intro.
It went well. I was OK as soon as I lost the “perky narrator’s voice” I had adopted, and I realized I had written for Corby the way I thought I was supposed to, rather than in a way that felt natural. I have by no means found my way as a writer yet, but in the last 48 hours I’ve learned far more about writing – and myself – than I ever expected.
Another thing I learned is that my classmates are writers. Exceptional writers. I have always known they are intelligent, well-read, and talented people, but nothing could have prepared me for the things I heard as Corby read their pieces. They were witty, eloquent, and made me dizzy with awe. They are also kind souls. A friend of mine declared her faith in my writing the moment it was shot down, then gave me one of the warmest hugs I have ever received after Corby read my piece again, this time in praise.
It is for this, and not my writing trauma, that I will allow myself to cry.
3 days ago