Monday, November 27, 2006

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Workshop

(with apologies to Wallace Stevens, Radiohead, T.S. Eliot, Dr. Crazy, and the eight people who just workshopped my MLA paper)

Workshopping is good. Having another set of
eyes, smart eyes,
can give you a new perspective. But the overwhelming perspective
that eight smart sets of eyes will give you
is how pathetic you must look through them.

No. Really. They gave me a lot
of good feedback, feedback
that I will use to make this a better paper,
to make this the kind of paper I will be proud to read
at MLA
where no one who knows this play will see my paper because I give my talk
at 8:15.

Knives still out from Thanksgiving feasts,
still sharp from meatier birds,
carved up this paper like so many leftovers.

I knew this was not my best work when
I submitted it. I said,
“I am very very unhappy with this draft.” So they know I
am not a stupid as this draft might make me out to look.

So what if the other paper workshopped today
was really smart.
So what if the guy is a first year hire and four years younger (I’m already young, you know). His success
doesn’t come at the expense of mine.

Oh man, I’m doing something wrong.
I wrote this too fast. I am not giving enough time to my research
I am paying too much attention to my students.
I have taken on too many projects at once.
I am spending too much time at the gym.
I am spending too much time planning elaborate meals.
I am not thinking and writing carefully.
I have got to change my writing habits or else I will be discovered sooner or later to be a hack.

OK. I know this feeling, and it is called
Impostor Syndrome. I knew it before it really set in, and I
know it now.
It’s not real. I am going to be ok.
I do good work. This is not the death of my career
(though I have been discovered by eight colleagues to be capable of really bad work).

It was just a draft and not everyone
Just the accumulated advice snowballed until it seemed like it
(Jesus, I've been reduced to mixing my metaphors).

I’ve got plenty of time to revise.
There are four days before this piece of crap paper
Must be rewritten from the ground up
And submitted to the panel organizer.

This is what I get for writing a sexy abstract before the paper was written.
This is what I get.
This is what I get.
This is what I get.
(Are the Kharma Police arresting this man?)

No one ever said writing was easy.
I’ve just got to step back and follow the advice—
The good advice—
I give to my students all the time.
Go back.
Start a new document.
Write from the beginning.
Copy and paste when I need to.
A new draft will arise like a phoenix from the ashes.

Red-faced, the young scholar learns
That fear’s tinny scent
Comes from inside his jacket.

Ironically, thirteen is my lucky number.
Though Eliot always struck as being coy with this line:
Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.


Dr. Crazy said...

It was NOT horrible!!!!

It was a DRAFT!!!!!

(I could be mean right now and say the thing that my diss adviser said to me after my submission of my first chapter of my dissertation that lies dusty in a file folder somewhere, that some people "just need to write things out of their system. You are one of those people." But I won't. I only give the anecdote because I'M ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. And what that experience taught me is never to be ashamed of any draft that I write. It's better to write something that you need to revise than to have written nothing at all. I really believe that.)

Ok, that self-indulgent aside over, here's the thing. It's good that you have a life. It's good that you go to the gym and spend time with the kiddies and plan fabulous meals. You need that, and your work needs it. And at the end of the day, your revision is going to make the paper stellar. I promise.

(But yes, you were right to apologize to Wallace Stevens. This is a sad, sad appropriation of his awesome poem :) )

Horace said...

OK, so a few hours and a half a bottle of wine have given me a bit of perspective, enough to know that this post is far far worse than the 8 pages I had workshopped today. But suffice to say, that was a rough experience. And I've had negative feedback before, but damn!

So back to the drawing board tomorrow, and let the revisions begin.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Hey, I love this post! Of course, it may be because I don't know the awesome Wallace Stevens original? (Being a historian, I can get away with being illiterate like that.) But I love this because it so so so sums up the way I feel WAY TOO OFTEN.

Anyway, it will be a great paper.

Anonymous said...

I really _liked_ your stanza III. I'd probably like your paper too. I just got a journal rejection, if that makes you feel better. Mine got shredded and I believed it _was_ my finest, most polished and edited work, not a draft.

Just remember that Hemingway rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, what, 43 times? Keep going. Keep going.

--- trystero49