Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Morning Reading: Jennifer Egan on the Importance of Writing Groups

from The Days of Yore: an interview with Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize:


...But another critical thing I realized after the debacle of the novel I wrote in England was that I can’t actually work in a vacuum. I need to know on a more regular basis if whether what I am doing is landing or not. So ever since then, I’ve had a writing group that I’ve been a part of. The personalities change over the years, but basically, by the time I show anything to anyone, it’s been vetted to some degree by these folks.

And how did you find that writing group?

One woman in the group, Ruth Danon, is a poet whom I had met at Yaddo. It started out as a class that she was offering. Then it evolved into a group doing it together. Again, the personalities change, but the feeling is the same. The way we do it is, we read work aloud. We don’t actually look at anything on a page.

It’s a very trusting environment, but also a very rigorous environment. Because you want to know that everyone is on your side, but if they just tell you it’s great, they’re not doing you any favors. That part about everyone being on your side is really critical too. There’s nothing worse than not knowing whether their criticism is motivated by some sort of internal or external wish to undermine or whether it is valid.

But it can be hard in, say, a writing workshop, to shut out the choir of voices and hear your own voice.

Yes. But what I lose by not listening is much greater than what I lose by listening to bad advice. Because I think I can sort of sort through with my gut what is useful and what is not useful. Whereas if I hear nothing, I know vividly what results. I am never going to let that happen again.

I think people feel somehow that they can be hurt by hearing the wrong thing. I am not convinced that is true. We might get our feelings hurt, but I don’t think there is any actual damage done. What’s bad falls away.

One thing I often say to students is, “I am not interested in hearing solutions.” If people give me solutions that are cockamamie, which they often will, forget that! But take a step back and look at the problem they are identifying with that solution. That is useful to know.


To read the interview in its entirety, click here.


Leightongirl said...

Loved this!

Anonymous said...

So true and so hard to find! Writing in a vacuum doesn't work, and we all know how tired our family members are of critiquing!

Paul Tobin said...

I would agree with Anonymous, it is difficult to write without constructive feedback, if nothing else hearing what others think of your work sharpens your writing chops. I have to say though, I find it scary, even though I respect the people in my group. I think that we need to share to grow as writers.

Rebel Girl said...

Thanks for reading ---

Site Meter