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libbyagain


May 30, 2006, 7:25 AM

Post #151 of 175 (3935 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Self-confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

Oh, gee--THANKS. Now I'm going to be struggling with that image all day. "You're painting yourself as a bitter old hag." Easels. . . face-painting. . .nope, still not working. . . UGH! I hope your private-message pest, whether Rapunzel or not, works on her/his images a little harder, next time! Figurative language takes discipline!

Hee-hee.


motet
Dana Davis / Moderator
e-mail user

May 30, 2006, 10:43 AM

Post #152 of 175 (3911 views)
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Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, I started to erase and realized that there's really too much too erase so we have a few options and here's what's going to happen.

For those patrons who would like to continue this off-topic discussion about who wrote what and what that could, might, or may imply, take it to email.

For those patrons who would like to continue the topic about self-confidence and writing, the floor is open.

For those who have received unwanted or anonymous private messages, please forward them to me. The appropriate action will certainly be taken by myself and our IT person.

For those patrons who continue to post off-topic here, your posts will be erased in their entirety no matter what other salient points you're making at the time. Move on or move along...


Dana


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

May 31, 2006, 2:54 AM

Post #153 of 175 (3825 views)
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Re: [motet] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post

I was thinking about this topic again today, unbelievably, and I still think it comes down to the definition of harshness. I initially stated that I found harsh criticism unproductive. I suggested, after we first began to argue, that perhaps we differ in what we consider harsh.

this is what i'm taking as the definition of harsh:

by dictionary: unpleasantly coarse and rough to the touch; disagreeable to the senses; extremely severe or exacting; scornful or contemptuous

by thesaurus: brusque, curt, blunt, short, clipped, rude, impolite, discourteous, unmannerly, uncivil, ungracious, crusty, gruff, bluff, bearish, churlish, bad-tempered, choleric, splenetic, morose, surly, sullen, sulky, petulant, peevish, shrewish, waspish, irascible, irritable, touchy, moody, grouchy, thorny, cross, bristling, quarrelsome, peppery, snarling, etc.

I have received some very extensive and serious criticism of my work before--so much criticism it suggested the manuscript I submitted was poor, but in general, the best writers in the class spoke objectively and neutrally, and their comments had not a hint of contempt or scorn. They sounded neither positive nor negative, just serious and professional. I believe it is possible to be like this all the time. I don't think there is ever any need to be harsh. If you look at the definitions and synonyms above, harshness generally implies that the person being harsh has some kind of personal problem (or has a limited vocabulary). It generally does not mean "so truthful it hurts." It means "unpleasant." Even if the harshness has some level of truth, I think it is more unpleasant than truthful.

yes, harshness does contain some truth--that's why it hurts at all--but it's often a twisted truth, a manipulated truth, meant to stab the listener, kind of like using someone's words out of context in order to highlight something embarrassing about him (it's like a tabloid magazine that zeroes in on a pimple and blows the picture up). yes, the pimple was there; that's the truth and it's harsh; but what's the point? You could find a blemish, a wrinkle of cellulite, uneven skin pigmentation, unsightly chin hair on anybody. Yes, that's truthful, but completely meaningless.

For instance, I once wrote an extremely embarrasing manuscript that didn't work on any level. the characters were predictable and cliche, the story was uninteresting and vulgar. It was pretty much the worst manuscript you could possibly submit. The very tactful professor wrote: "I think you need to re-examine what makes a story a story... a good book to read is...." Obviously it was negative, but it was not harsh. And if this is the worst manuscript you could possibly submit, then I don't think any manuscript really deserves anything harsh. harsh to me means unnecessarily negative, infused with non-objective feeling, personal, contemptuous.

This is how I personally would phrase the worst possible comments I could give:

Character: "I don't know if this character is complex enough to hold my interest."

Plot: "I don't quite understand how one scene follows another."

POV: "Maybe you should experiment with something else."

Overall concept: "I think you should re-examine what arrests you about this subject matter."

Style: "You should cut these adverbs."

Pacing: "Certain things have to be shown dramatically; other things have to be summarized and implied..."

going to post so that it doesn't erase


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

May 31, 2006, 3:15 AM

Post #154 of 175 (3824 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think any of my above comments were harsh, and yet, they all indicated something dramatic needed to be done to the manuscript.

Well, here are some nice quotes from On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner:

"In a good workshop, the teacher establishes a general atmosphere of helpfulness rather than competitiveness or viciousness... students try to understand and appreciate the story that has been written. They assume, even if they secretly doubt it, that the story was carefully and intelligently constructed and that its oddities have some justification. If they cannot understand why the story is as it is, they ask questions."

you should try to appreciate the story which has been written; the key word is "try". you can pick up any story in the whole world, not try to appreciate it, and then rip it apart. it takes more effort to read carefully with goodwill and question than to be sarcastic and snide and rude. in a way, harshness is cheap, because it requires less intellectual commitment. the key word is "assume." "try" and "assume" do not mean letting the writer off the hook. One should simultaneously try to appreciate and maintain skepticism at once.

"It is the nature of stupid people to hide their perplexity and attack what they cannot grasp. the wise admit their puzzlement."

"At its best, class criticism can help everyone involved, as long as that criticism is basically generous. Vicious criticism leads to writer's block, both in the victim and in the attacker."

basically generous!

"One forgets the extent to which aesthetic standards are projections of one's own personality, defensive armor, or wishful thinking about the world."

I have found that very harsh people seem to be narrow-minded, insensitive in general, and not open to alternate possibilities and perspectives. they seem to forget that their own views may carry heavy personal bias.

"...how to figure out what is wrong with the story and how to think about alternate ways of fixing it... the student needs to learn process...."

yes, process. people should be aware that stories are being revised continuously. you should not judge people's intelligence or make sweeping statements about their abilities based on a text at hand.

"the writer does not improve by being scorned."

***A side point: contempt ruins human relationships. I don't think contempt improves anyone.


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

May 31, 2006, 3:34 AM

Post #155 of 175 (3823 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post

perhaps "vicious" is a better word than "harsh" in this situation.


HopperFu


May 31, 2006, 7:17 AM

Post #156 of 175 (3813 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
perhaps "vicious" is a better word than "harsh" in this situation.



I don't think anybody will argue with you that vicious is never, ever warranted.
Not having done an MFA yet, obviously, this is conjecture, but my guess is, however, at an MFA level, the criticism will be very exacting, and sometimes this will feel harsh. I'm sure that in undergrad many of the comments about stories are innapropriate for a number of reasons (not the least because the comments are coming from undergrads), but I think, for the most part, it will be more serious at more serious MFA programs (there will, of course, be exceptions).
My second guess is that the better of a writer you are, the more likely you are to get very exacting criticism that sometimes feel harsh, if only because your colleagues and profs will hold you to a higher level. In other words, I think that in MFA programs, more often than not, comments that come across as harsh - and yes, sometimes even vicious - are not merely intended to tear down. As we all know from this message board, it is quite easy to state something that we think means one thing and to not realize the negative or personal "tone" that comes with it.
When in doubt, I'm going to assume that comments that feel exacting, even vicious, are not about me as a person, but rather about my work, and are intended to help make me a better writer, and as such, I will do my best to consider the comments as they relate to my work and not to me as a person.


libbyagain


May 31, 2006, 8:30 AM

Post #157 of 175 (3808 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post

I also tend to think that some people are more provocative than others. . . and I say that knowing it sounds flat and sweeping and is full of holes as a position.

I have found, for example, that in general creative writers are bolder, more interested in detail and motivation and character and sub-text and back story, than academics in general. Thus, in meetings where groups are diverse, the creative writers have often gone out on limbs, taken positions, that are provocative--and, imo, accurate, true, helpful. "Provocative" because, among other things, these positions threaten some others' need for denial, and "decorum," which some others in my ken have sometimes tended to define as "comfortable compalcency and not rocking boats." I have also found that creative writers, when stung for being whallopped concerning their honest, risky positions, have sometimes reacted with a jaded cynicism which is itself a form of defensiveness.

So, anyway. That's my experience of one particular department that contains both creative writers and more traditional academics. I can see why often the two form separate departments!

Within a group of writers only, a workshop say, I also think that often some writers are more provocative. This can be true for any number of reasons. On the up side, these writers may be more brave, may risk more, even out of naivete. They may go deeper, touch more nerves, take more risks--and for some reason this presumption can REALLY tick some people off! On the down side, some writers who provoke may assume that others respond with some irritation ONLY because they are "threatened," or "don't get it." Clinging to that stance can really put a screeching halt to development.

Hey--has anyone ever encountered a bit of phrasing that broke through her/his own presumptuous defensiveness, without seeming devastating or harsh/brutal? In creative writing or academics, I. . . haven't. It has either been brutal, or it has been so tactful I've glibly overlooked the intent to pull up short that was its probable subtext.

In piano, though, one prof was masterful at getting through to me, and cutting my adolescent, sophomoric posturing down without devastating me. He was Viennese, which cultural distance may have caused me to be more open to him--curious, and disarmed, and therefore more open. He would say, "Heh-heh. . .Vell, vell, vell. . . heh-heh. . . Vat I tink you may be trying to do, may be more like dis. . . " and then he'd demonstrate, smiling kindly, and would show me how to do what he'd just done so masterfully. In creative writing circles, I've seen Richard Bausch do something similar. . . but I was not, unfortunately, in his workshop.

Elizabeth


Clench Million
Charles

May 31, 2006, 1:46 PM

Post #158 of 175 (3762 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post

I think we need to realize there are two things here.

First there is the substance of the criticism itself.

Second there is the tone and wording of that criticism.

Both can be harsh. I think most people would agree that there isn't normally a need to have a harsh tone (However, just becuase someone does hardly means their criticism isn't valid or that they are only saying things cause they "hate you"), and I agree with HopperFu that vicious nasty comments aren't warranted in a classroom. However, like I Hopper I doubt those kinds of comments are something to worry about. Having been to a lot of undergrad workshops and knowing enough people currently in MFAs, I'm pretty confident that kind of stuff is very rare. No teacher worth their salt would allow people to be vicious and cruel in their tone and wording. Anything like that would be a put a stop to immediatly.

So while I agree with you, I think its kind of obscuring the issue, in that the only type of harsh criticism one is likely to get in an MFA setting is criticism that is harsh to hear because it takes issue with large parts of one's story.

I agree with you that contempt is not healthy for human relations, but I think part of the issue we had before was that your comments seemed to be displaying contempt for your classmates and for their comments on your work. You seemed so angry at and dismissive of them merely for disliking your work.


Personally I disagree with your assessement of "harsh" people though. If we are using harsh to mean vicious and mean-spirited, well sure... maybe narrow-minded, but if we are talking about people who are willing to provide serious and substantive criticism of people's work, ideas and beliefs (essentialy the "bold" willing to rock the boat types libbyagain describes), we are talking about the most interesting, intelligent and open-minded people in my experience.

Personally it is dishonesty that irks me and that I think's a real problem in our culture. The kind of dishonest praise you often hear in workshops (because people dont' want to rock the boat or risk hurting anyone's feelings, or just because they were too lazy to actually read the piece) is much more pointless and unhelpful than harsh substantive criticism is.


mingram
Mike Ingram

May 31, 2006, 2:52 PM

Post #159 of 175 (3750 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

Character: "I don't know if this character is complex enough to hold my interest."

Plot: "I don't quite understand how one scene follows another."

POV: "Maybe you should experiment with something else."

Overall concept: "I think you should re-examine what arrests you about this subject matter."

Style: "You should cut these adverbs."

Pacing: "Certain things have to be shown dramatically; other things have to be summarized and implied..."




It's true those comments aren't in any way harsh, but they also seem to be so unspecific as to not, in the end, be particularly helpful. I realize this is partly because you're just making up hypothetical comments to a story that doesn't exist, but ... I do think sometimes people react in workshop to criticism they think is "harsh" that in fact is just very specific. Particularly when a workshop teacher (or others in the class) are criticizing a manuscript at the sentence level (i.e., this sentence doesn't mean what you think it does, the writing here is flat or overwrought or confusing or whatever). Because people then think the critiquer is saying they're a bad writer, and that makes them defensive. In a good workshop, I think the instructor makes it clear upfront that everyone in the room is a talented writer (well, at the grad level at least, where the students are selected to be there), but everyone does bad work, and it's nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, the bad work is often the most instructive.

A good workshop is always specific, and always referencing particular sentences in the text. Nothing irritates me more than when people say things like "The writing here is really great, but..." As if there's anything to talk about other than the writing. I mean, if the plot doesn't make sense, or the characters are unsympathetic, that's all stuff that's happening at the sentence level. And I feel like -- look, at the graduate level, we're all adults, and we're all serious about trying to be writers, and so the last thing we need is to be coddled and lied to, which is essentially what's happening when someone's offering faint praise or holding back on their criticism. Yes, of course it's important to not attack people personally ("You're a jerk," etc.). But I don't think that actually happens very much, except in some hypothetical workshop made up of a bunch of people with the emotional intelligence of six year olds.

So, sure, don't be a jerk. But also, recognize that the workshop isn't about you, really, it's about this story you brought in. Which, in many ways, is just a teaching tool for the rest of the class. I actually think the weeks when you're up in workshop are often the least helpful. The really important thing you're doing in workshop is reading your classmates' stories and figuring out why they don't work, where the writing succeeds or fails, etc., all of which you can do more objectively with others' work. Then you apply those lessons, consciously and unconsciously, to your own work.


BlueVelveeta


Jun 18, 2006, 6:17 PM

Post #160 of 175 (3652 views)
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But anyway, confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

I know I'm getting off the off-topic topic here, but I just made the mistake of re-reading pretty much everything I've written in the past 3 months, and I'm getting the distinct feeling (yet again) that it's all incredibly horrible. And the revision process is today yielding nothing.

Sounds like most of you were pretty confident in your writing throughout - is this "The unholy suck is upon me" feeling normal or is it a sign that I should bury my laptop and go to business school instead?

Help.


darredet
Darren A. Deth


Jun 18, 2006, 7:01 PM

Post #161 of 175 (3647 views)
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Re: [BlueVelveeta] But anyway, confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

What you are experiencing is normal. When I received my manuscript packet from Vermont College I started comparing what I sent in to the rest of the stories. For a few moments I thought I should right for the back of cereal boxes.


silkfx2004


Jun 18, 2006, 11:27 PM

Post #162 of 175 (3631 views)
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Re: [darredet] But anyway, confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

If it helps at all:

I've just finished my first year at Iowa, and upon reviewing everything I've written prior to coming here, I've realized that I've probably written fewer than five truly strong stories in my entire pre-MFA writing life. These stories are worth revising, but as for the rest of my stuff, revision is pretty pointless at this level...I'm basically breaking stories apart and creating (or attempting to create) new stories from the fragments. Again, this is all old stuff I'm talking about...I'm also continuing to take notes on new stuff I want to write about.

Fortunately I'm up to the task...most days. On those other days I sit and watch Netflix DVDs. However, my DVD player recently went on the fritz, which I've chosen to interpret as a sign from God.


--------
Nobody but God gets it right the first time. Everybody else has to rewrite. --attributed to Stephen King


rooblue


Jun 19, 2006, 11:51 AM

Post #163 of 175 (3601 views)
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Re: [BlueVelveeta] But anyway, confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

Blue,
As far as I know every fiction writer on earth has this problem. Okay, maybe Muriel Spark didn't (she claimed she just wrote down what she heard in her head and it was perfect on the first try) but the rest of us do. I'm going to guess that if you're looking back at your own work and not liking it, it means that you're in a period of rapid development as a writer -- a growth spurt if you will. This is a good thing, although painful. I could go on at length about this since I'm in the same boat so often myself, but instead I'll just suggest that you read Chris Offutt's wonderful essay on this very topic, called "The Eleventh Draft." I suspect that it's available online, but if not, it's been widely anthologized. It's short and honest, and addresses this issue head-on.

Keep going, keep writing. It will get better, and while you're waiting for insight you can always write cereal boxes, as Darren suggests.


BlueVelveeta


Jun 19, 2006, 11:12 PM

Post #164 of 175 (3551 views)
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Re: [rooblue] But anyway, confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, guys...that was really, really helpful to hear. Ever since I decided to apply to MFA programs, my confidence has been in a tailspin. I really like what you said, Roo; thinking of disdain for older work as an indication of "rapid development" is a positive way to frame those feelings.

I finally got a break today---the professor who teaches the workshop in which I've been participating for the past 2 months emailed me to say that my last poem (oh, I write poetry, by the way---wish I could write fiction!) was "tremendous" and "sublime" and to urge me to submit it to The Iowa Review. I probably won't, because that's not where I'm at right now, but it was hugely encouraging. At least, for the next 24 hours or so...


Windiciti



Oct 24, 2006, 11:57 AM

Post #165 of 175 (3436 views)
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Re: [BlueVelveeta] But anyway, confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you all for these posts about commenting on others' work!

Wish I' read it all before yesterday, when I committed the grievous sin of telling someone that their use of intials instead of the characters' names was "a distracting conceit" in the story.

And as I said in a similar post today in the MFA thread about workshops, I'm not sure my writing is that great, but worse, I'm not sure I'm learning anything in my very expensive class!


Windiciti



Oct 30, 2006, 11:31 AM

Post #166 of 175 (3362 views)
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Re: [BlueVelveeta] But anyway, confidence and writing [In reply to] Can't Post

Hang on to the feeling for as long as possible!
If your prof says it's good enough for the Iowa review, you lose NOTHING in submitting it there first!
Good Luck!


Mainer


Feb 1, 2007, 12:24 AM

Post #167 of 175 (3249 views)
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Re: [mingram] Self-confidence and writing meta [In reply to] Can't Post

Salon, Feb 1, 2007:
http://www.salon.com/mwt/col/tenn/2007/02/01/creative_writing/

It's hard to sympathize with the author of the letter while anxiously waiting for accptance, but I was impressed with Tennis's reply.


Glinda Bamboo


May 9, 2007, 6:58 PM

Post #168 of 175 (3061 views)
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Re: When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

Anyone out there? Lately my writing has been hindered by some douchebag nobody in a writing group who thinks my writing is "too domestic, like all those other MFA stories" because my stories often involve family relationships. Now I'm working on something new I’m excited about but I can't turn off that stupid criticism because this piece involves food and, gasp, family members. At one point the family members even cook . . . in a kitchen! Lordy. This guy is the only person in any of my writing groups who has this particular complaint, and he has also demonstrated in other cases that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about.


So what the hell? I know it's my fault for letting some bozo's inane comments affect my writing, and that I have to write my own stories without trying to be something I’m not, but still. Am I alone in this? Has your work ever been hindered by the fear that you’re writing the "MFA story," whatever that is? I'm not even in an MFA program, by the way, but I think most young writers fear they'll end up only sounding like someone else instead of themselves. Or if they even have their own voices at all. Any advice, let me know. In the meantime, I'm going to shut up and write and try to picture a much more attractive and well-read person looking over my shoulder instead of this particular wank. :)


writerle


May 9, 2007, 8:19 PM

Post #169 of 175 (3052 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

I've always been told that if you are hearing the same thing from a majority of people in your workshop, then pay attention, because you might have a problem. If only one person has a particular complaint about your work, then you can probably ignore it. Everyone encounters someone like this in a workshop eventually. It sounds like you already know what to do with his 'advice.'

In my MFA program, there doesn't seem to be one prevailing type of writing. I've seen everything in my workshops. I do tend to write domestic stories that revolve around family life, but I was doing that long before I ever decided to pursue an MFA. I really hate it when people say that all MFA grads write alike. In my experience, it simply isn't true.


seemingmeaning

e-mail user

May 10, 2007, 2:28 PM

Post #170 of 175 (2993 views)
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Re: [writerle] When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

Whereabouts are you getting your MFA?


piratelizzy


May 10, 2007, 2:29 PM

Post #171 of 175 (2992 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

Tell him you appreciate his input and will consider it. Then try to move on. If you feel singled out and/or unduly harassed by this man's ongoing interference, express your concerns to your instructor. But really, I think we have to learn to take the good and leave the bad. You're not alone; I think most of us have been through it or will at some point. Be strong. Persevere. Write on. It's your work, not his. Own it.


'sup?!

(This post was edited by piratelizzy on May 10, 2007, 2:34 PM)


seemingmeaning

e-mail user

May 10, 2007, 2:34 PM

Post #172 of 175 (2988 views)
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Re: [piratelizzy] When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

Well put, piratelizzy. As for advice Glinda Bamboo, take it with a grain of salt. Only take advice that will IMPROVE the vision of your story; not hurt it.


jlgwriter
Jeanne Lyet Gassman
e-mail user

May 10, 2007, 2:37 PM

Post #173 of 175 (2984 views)
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Re: [seemingmeaning] When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with piratelizzy. I've been in many critique groups and classes, and I always consider the source. If this is someone you respect, then take a second look at what he's saying. If he's nothing but a PIA who wants to dominate the class, then thank him politely for his advice, ignore it, and move on.

Jeanne


http://www.jeannelyetgassman.com
http://jeannelyetgassman.blogspot.com


writerle


May 10, 2007, 6:27 PM

Post #174 of 175 (2954 views)
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Re: [seemingmeaning] When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

I am just finishing my first year in the low res program at Vermont College.


ajholtz


May 23, 2007, 7:24 AM

Post #175 of 175 (2811 views)
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Re: [writerle] When you doubt your stories... [In reply to] Can't Post

I have a website called Homeless Writers - where people can read other people's stories and help them out, or the other way around - please, send your work in if you want other people to see it, you can always put it on anonymously if you feel like you want to! I'm planning on applying for an MFA next year as well, and plan to use it to get feedback on my pieces - in my mind, the more eyes seeing it, the better for me!

http://homelesswriters.googlepages.com

Have a look around and them email stories or constructive criticism to homelesswriters@googlemail.com

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