Want to scare a writer? Easy! Just ask to read their work. Nothing drives fear into the heart of many writers than someone reading their unpublished manuscripts. The tendency is for writers to write and write and then stash their manuscripts somewhere where they themselves may never read it again. This very fear prevented me from writing for a long time until I attended college and majored in Creative Writing. By taking creative writing classes, I learned how absolutely necessary it is for others to read your work.
A creative writing class is unlike any other class you’ll take in college. Classes are small and composed of students from all kinds of majors: english, history, engineering, biology, etc. Desks are moved to form a rectangle and faced inwards with the idea that if you’re going to criticize someone’s manuscript, you better do so to their face. The professor sits at the front of the classroom taking a whole side of the rectangle by themselves, becoming both an equal and an authority figure. The professor ensures the rules of workshop are followed by everyone; give positive feedback and no malicious criticism, only constructive. Generally, the professor doesn’t referee much because of the mutual respect you develop for your peers. How can you not respect them when they’re allowing you to tear their work apart?
Most of the time, you’re reading your peers’ manuscripts and giving feedback during workshop. Giving feedback is easy, but receiving it can be difficult. I’m not going to lie, it hurt in the beginning. Nobody likes being criticized. It makes you feel vulnerable, naked, even humiliated sometimes. Atlast, when your workshop day arrives you’re going to sit there while 15 to 20 other students tell you why your story was or was not good. A part of you wants to shut it out, but this hurt is essential! You learn so much about your writing style, both the good and bad. Your peers will point out weak characters or plot points and then give you invaluable advice on how to fix these weaknesses. They offer new ideas you can use that you would have never come up with yourself. For example, I wrote a short story about a man who learned in medical school he could speak with cadavers. A peer asked during workshop, “Wouldn’t they have had a grandparent that died before going to medical school?” I was shocked to my core. Of course, how obvious! But the obvious wasn’t apparent to me because all my grandparents are either alive or died when I was too young to remember them. Readers bring a well of new perspectives and experiences that your stories can draw from. You just have to listen.
Creative writing classes will also bring you out of your own head; to see things from someone who isn’t you. Characters and scenes may seem fleshed out to you, but that’s only because you’re able to fill in the missing pieces within your own head while writing. You may not realize those pieces are missing on the page. Readers become frustrated even if just one piece is missing. Or there could be too many unnecessary pieces. Does that make you a bad writer? Of course not! Every writer needs to get out of their own head once in awhile and creative writing groups are the best way to do that.
I no longer take creative writing classes, but I do have a creative writing group. After my last class, we all decided that we not only knew each other well but respected and admired each other as writers. It wasn’t difficult to set up a Facebook group and run it the same way workshop was ran. If you’ve never taken a creative writing class and can’t afford to, create your own creative writing group! All you need are fellow writers who aren’t afraid of constructive criticisms.
The moral of this story is this: whatever you decide to do, always have your manuscript read by others. You simply cannot grow into a great writer if your stories never see the light of day. Collect perspectives like you do books and use them. It’s frightening at first, but well worth it in the long run.