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Why CW majors are bulletproof.

What I think most people do not know about creative writing as a discipline in the academe is that beyond the supposed "glorified suffering" of being alone with your unpredictable emotions, finding solace/anxiety in words, having your mind bled dry from all the thinking, [blah blah blah insert all the stereotypical writing frustrations here], is something more distressing, nerve-wracking and undoubtedly terrifying than the actual writing process:

The Workshop.

Contrary to popular belief, we do not just type to our heart's content, letting our fingers type away random words on the keyboard like an inebriated driver stepping on the gas pedal (although sometimes the alcohol-to-speed ratio may be the same), submit the paper under the category "This is my art and you can fuck off if you don't get it," and hope for the professor to see through our "eccentricity" and give us an A+ for creativity. Although we're not exactly given specific requirements about what to write, we're not easily warranted the permission to go crazy on our work either. The piece (and consequently, the writer) has to undergo the workshop.

In a nutshell, the workshop goes like this: the class sits around in a circle and everyone comments on a piece of work. You say what you like and don't like about the piece, down the nitty-gritty. No detail goes unnoticed: from the title, to the commas, to the grammar. In fiction and playwriting, the plot and the characters. In poetry, the rhythm and the wording. In nonfiction, the voice and the urgency. But most of all, what gets really nitpicked is the style. The aesthetics. The technique. The way you write.

That was a really downplayed, sugarcoated way of describing it. To borrow a quote from one of my toughest (yet greatest) professors, "It's a blood bath."

No writer emerges from a workshop unscathed, especially the first time. Of course it begins with everyone pointing out the strong points of your piece, going through all the parts they really found interesting, which will of course make you feel awesome-- until someone raises a problem with your plot, or character, or ending or all of them. Bam! Suddenly all your faith in the literary world crumbles to pieces along with your dignity. Just when you think you've created the best piece of art in your career, someone will point out the tiniest detail to make you feel ashamed you ever considered taking this course in the first place. Let's not forget: it's face-to-face. You say what's on your mind while the writer is in the room. Some say it's a kind of "constructive bashing." It's brutal. And the tough part is, it always happens. It has to happen. A part of you will always die a little (or a lot), even if you undergo the process again and again.

I've had my share of really bad comments in the last few semesters. The most embarrassing are the nitpicking ones on grammar (Yes, I forget my commas too, sometimes.) But the hardest ones to take are those that (deliberately or otherwise) question my effectiveness as a writer -- how come the character is shallow? Why don't I get what is happening? What is the point of this? It hurts to see a character I poured myself into get deflated by some question I never even thought about. It's painful to have someone else come up with something better to do with my work. I think no matter how constructive I know it is supposed to be, I will always leave that room affected in some way after a workshop.

(And remember, we do this for every CW subject, every semester)

But the great thing about the workshop is that the effect doesn't have to be entirely negative. I've seen the harshest criticisms thrown to people then suddenly being surprised by how drastically their stories improved the next meeting. It really forces you to see through everything and go beyond what is expected of you. It raises the stakes; it makes you more aware. And honestly, it doesn't always go bad: the workshop can also be the affirmation of your talent, or at the very least, your improvement. There is no greater feeling than having someone say they enjoyed reading your work or found it promising, even if that's just one person. And the workshop provides that kind of feedback a writer needs for revising, improving, and maturing.

It is, in short, like most things in life, a necessary kind of pain.

I think that is why I've learned to handle criticism a lot more gracefully now. I can have someone say something to my face and I wouldn't have the urge to cry. I consider negative comments as questions that can help enrich my piece, not remarks to weigh me down as a writer (or as a person, even). It's equipped me with a good amount of toughness and I've learned how to weed out the critique I really need. More importantly, it's taught me that there is always, always room for improvement. But that shouldn't stop you from stepping up and going beyond the expectations.

It's a rough ordeal, and having to go through it every week is no joke. Sometimes, I still get carried away, to be honest. But it's all part of the learning process. I guess the workshop spells the difference between a person who just writes and a CW major: the experience of having your work fleshed out constructively is something you can only get from being in this discipline. I'm not saying we're automatically better writers, but it helps to be toughened up as part of the curriculum.

Workshops for several of my CW classes are coming up in the next few weeks. I'm half-nervous and half-excited. I'd love to quote a very famous Kanye Song/Daft Punk line right now but I think there's a more appropriate (and more awesome) song that could sufficiently end this post:

This time, baby, I'll be bulletproof.