That 10 percent that matters to you

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In Narrative Design, Madison Smartt Bell discusses the dilemma of workshop writing classes. He also talks about their antidote, the writing group where the inner creativity process becomes the focus of the meeting. That’s a lot like the work in our Writer’s Workshop: the majority of what we do together is generative work, reinforced by positive response. You create things while you are at our table, on the couches, out under the fans in the cabana.

Bell has respect for the classic workshops like those led in Iowa and other capitals of critique. But he said that after watching the group-think pull so many stories into mediocrity on subsequent drafts,

I opened my second-semester workshop at Iowa with remarks along these lines: Assume that when your work is being discussed, about 90 percent of what you hear will be useless to you and irrelevant to what you have done. Learn to listen carefully and to discriminate what’s useful to you from what’s not. Remember the relevant part and ignore the rest. If even one person understands what you intended to be understood, then you can say you have succeeded.

Don’t try to please the group. Don’t try to please the leader of the group, or the teacher. The person you have to please is yourself. Your job is to become the best judge of your own work. If you do become a professional writer at some point, you’ll need that skill more than ever before.

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