The pendulum has swung, as pendulums are so woefully apt to do. When I was small, and first starting reading about what writers said about writing, they all seemed to say that it was better not to discuss a work in progress. At the time, this seemed a kind of magic trick, a superstition of some kind. But I’d be damned if I didn’t take their word for gospel, even though I didn’t understand it any better than I understood the actual Gospels (I heard “Jesus is everywhere” and imagined a thousand teeny tiny invisible Bethlehem babies lounging around even as I bathed).
Apparently, I was damned. By the time I started writing in earnest, the whole mechanism had to do with not only discussing but sharing your work in progress. In college, this was great, because I wasn’t in any way ready to complete anything to the point that it could be published. So participating in workshops was like army boot camp. I learned lots.
In MFA school, I still learned, especially in literature seminars, but I certainly didn’t complete anything publishable. But this time, I was probably ready to, but was hampered by the workshop process. There were three reasons for this, I think. 1, in no workshop that I took did anyone say that a piece should just be abandoned. All criticism was constructive, which was the point, but in reality some work needs to be torn down so that something better can be built in its place. I’m very impressionable, so after hearing my work discussed for 20 or so minutes, I became convinced it was worth my continued attention even if it really wasn’t. But I ran into trouble with the continued attention because 2, my classmates’ and professor’s opinions about any one piece, even a 3-pager, were so conflicted, and the problems they unearthed so convoluted, that I was totally lost when faced with revision. To make matters worse, 3, my professors and classmates (not to mention lots of other people in my life–they all agreed) also told me what book they thought I should write, and how I should go about it. Almost five years later, I have only just really decided that they were wrong, and that the book they had in mind is not the one I should write, at least not right now. Like I said, I’m very impressionable. I have confidence in my own work, sure, but there is something powerful about everyone you know saying they want to read the same as-yet-unwritten book by you. Powerful and dangerous.