We had a most inspiring workshop evening at the Glenmhor Hotel (Waterside Building) on Tuesday (19th February) led by Merryn Glover. We discovered that apart from being a gifted and perceptive writer, Merryn is also a very able communicator and teacher.
Merryn’s theme was ‘Do you read me?’, subtitled ‘Giving and receiving effective feedback.’ The workshop was an initial response from the Committee to Graham Bullen’s request at last month’s AGM for HighlandLIT to consider offering, or facilitating the giving of feedback on members’ writing.
Like the very best teachers, Merryn encouraged us to think, and to contribute to the discussion, drawing wisdom out of us, while almost imperceptibly enriching what she heard with her own insights.
We covered a lot of ground in two hours. Constructive feedback can be enormously helpful, we agreed. We must first of all learn, however, to be our own editor, our own ‘critic,’ reading aloud to gauge the effectiveness of what we have written.
It’s important to understand why we are seeking feedback – is it simply for encouragement in our writing; is it specialist advice on the subject our work covers; is it input at one or more of the three ‘levels’ Merryn mentioned: the macro ‘big picture’ of overall structure, character development, authenticity and integrity; the ‘internal workings’ level, looking at language and structural issues at paragraph and sentence level; the micro, ‘technical details’ copy-editing level. Among much else, we discussed identifying the appropriate person to give the particular kind of feedback we are looking for.
But Merryn urged us to remember that all feedback is subjective, and that ultimately the piece you have written is yours. Yes, we seek advice to shape our writing so that it becomes as powerful, well-paced and marketable as we can make it. But we should never agree to so edit a text that we feel it is no longer ours.
Merryn showed us the opening of a short story – one enormous, unpunctuated sentence surging ill-disciplined down the page. I read it, and was puzzled. How was it possible to write so well, and yet so badly? I reached for my blue pencil. And then Merryn fessed up – she’d played a trick on us. The text was the opening of a story by Jonathan Tel, The Shoe King of Shanghai, which had been shortlisted in a Sunday Times short story competition. The point being, that although it broke many of the ‘rules’ nevertheless many people (but not everyone) find that when they let its torrent of words flow through the channels of imagination they are drawn into the world of the story.
The evening ended with a great piece of role-play: HighlandLIT’s chair Paul Shanks acted as the writer of a rather pedestrian and yet at times insightful love poem which clearly expressed, however imperfectly, something deep within the poet. Merryn played the role of the friendly critic, drawing ot, ‘counselling style’ as someone noted, the positives, helping Paul to discern personally some of the issues with ‘his’ work. The conclusions reached were his own, brought to fruition by the warm climate of Merryn’s encouragement.
We were grateful to Merryn for this illuminating evening which left us better equipped to critique our own work, to go about seeking feedback from others in ways which will be helpful to us, and to respond to the work of others with grace and integrity.