Take Honest Criticism

I had a recent writing speed bump.

Last week, I had my final meeting of the semester with my writing mentor, Manette Ansay. Before our meeting, she wanted me to condense the first 200 pages of my memoir to about 50. Amidst end-of-semester work, I scrambled to produce 8 re-written pages. The worst part was I actually thought they were pretty good.

We sat down in our usual meeting place, and I could tell what was coming.

“It just seems like you’re tired,” she said, sifting through my meager writing. “Finish up your finals, take a couple weeks off writing, read as much as you can, and go back to it.”

Still holding onto my delusion, I asked her, “Is it too literary?”

“It’s not literary at all,” she said. “It’s lifeless.”

After the meeting, I reread the pages. She was right.

It reminded me of my first Creative Writing class. It was with Manette actually, in the Spring of 2016. I was one of about ten undergrads. And Manette had five MFA grad students there to help us with our writing.

So I walk in with the first ten pages of a story I thought was a hit. I’d worked on it all Winter Break. It got muted approval from most, but one MFA student tore into it. Like, demolished it completely. I was so mad. I showed Fernanda his comments and was like, “Can you believe this guy?” But once I calmed down, reread his comments, and reread my story, I saw that he was right on the money.

It happened again last week (and it won’t be the last time). Manette could see I was little taken aback. She added, “Now at least you know I wasn’t BS-ing when I was complimenting your draft.” Surround yourself with people that want you to succeed and will give you honest criticism. That’s one of the many things I love about Fernanda. She’ll encourage me and applaud me, but will not hesitate to call me out if I’m full of shit. That’s invaluable, because your ego can blind you.

So I’m taking Manette’s advice, and for the next two weeks, I’m reading-reading-reading.

Here’s my tentative reading list:
1. I’m rereading American Psycho because it’s a damn good story and I’ve been wanting to reread it for years.
2. Running With Scissors, a memoir Manette said could help me write mine.
3. The Woman Warrior, another memoir Manette recommended because it has a more creative structure than most memoirs.
4. And Blurring the Boundaries: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction, which (spoiler alert) Manette recommended to help me think about my story’s structure.

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