(This piece was submitted for my Creative Writing coursework; graded: 76/100)
Workshopping. You hand out your latest piece of writing for critiquing and subtly watch your peer’s facial expressions as they read it. Surely they’re at that part by now. Wait, why did they scowl? Oh no, they hate it!
Often you feel anxious about letting others read a piece of work you absolutely love, even more so if you completely hate it. However, the returned criticism is always constructive and pointing out flaws in other people’s work actually helps you to stop making the same mistakes in your own.
The pieces I have submitted for CW1: A Strange Day in July, The Chair and Nature’s Angry, have all been through the workshop process and I believe they are in a much better position now than they would have been without it.
A Strange Day in July is perhaps the bleakest piece I’ve written for workshopping. Inspired by a Harris Burdick image and the opening line: “He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back”, my imagination took me somewhere dark and the result was a straightforward Stephen King-esque fantasy horror. From discussion with other students, the reaction was mostly positive. Some liked the grisly nature of the ending, the change of pace and the shift in tone around halfway.
However, earlier drafts referenced the children’s parents and some felt there was unnecessary ambiguity regarding their whereabouts. I chose to omit all references to the father, gave the mother some characterisation in a flashback and ultimately revealed her daughter had killed her while possessed by a magical force. Peers preferred this ending, although questioned where it would go should I continue writing.
Aside from a few missing words, the only other suggestion was to make it clearer as to whether Joshua’s arm is cut off or badly broken – something I hadn’t thought about at the time of writing. Now, it includes the line: “no longer attached to his body”. For the final draft, I chose to extend the piece in an attempt to provide more suspense and a few scarier moments. I believe Ellie’s sinister smile as she attacks her brother is something worth highlighting.
Without a doubt, The Chair is my most popular piece, with praise from friends, other students and my tutor. It’s also my personal favourite. Perhaps it’s the universal theme of letting things go or the open-endedness in terms of interpretation, with some distinctions – especially by students – to leaving friends behind when moving away (i.e. going to university).
This piece was produced when asked to describe a person if they were a piece of furniture. I didn’t want to write about a specific person, so I chose to write about a friendship that disintegrated after some time. For a long time, I avoided talking about this as I found it quite upsetting, but writing about it in this way and ultimately sharing it gave me a sense of release.
While workshopping one of the earlier drafts, some of my peers felt I could go into more detail regarding the new chair, especially as I had described it as “the best chair [I’d] ever had”, but did little to emphasise this fact. I took their advice and included a brief description: “plump, smells fresh and genuinely brings a smile to [my] face”. This improved the ending a lot. I also chose to remove a sense of hostility towards the old chair where I claim I don’t care about its whereabouts.
For the final draft, I chose to pay more attention to the tense, which often changes from present to past. The piece as a whole is reflective, but the use of present tense gives it an immediacy and a feeling of being thrown back into that situation. At times, the tenses became confusing, so I attempted to improve it.
Nature’s Angry came from a piece of writing on a character walking through the woods having just ended a relationship. My self-confessed obsession with writing about autumn meant there was imagery I absolutely loved, such as “[leaves] swirling around as if caught in invisible tornadoes”. I didn’t like the initial piece very much, so I decided to adapt some of the imagery for a piece on miserable weather. I thought people would find it pretentious, but I’ve only received overwhelmingly positive comments. Some loved how I had described the miserable weather with such a positive viewpoint. It’s not until the very end where we are reminded of how miserable this weather can make us.
During workshopping, I was made aware of in medias res, a technique I frequently use but failed to put a name to. I was also advised to tighten up a few sentences to allow the piece to flow better. This included removing words such as ‘watch’, ‘warm’ or ‘hear’ to reduce padding. Nature’s Angry is an unintentionally poetic piece and definitely something I intend to revisit in future.