I have the good fortune of being in a fiction writing workshop where I recently submitted the first chapter of my novel. Because it was so well-received, I got a massive boost of confidence in my writing.
I was surprised to see that so many of the students were engaging with my fiction so readily and grasping it with such clarity. Their commentary was in-depth, and they all reacted the way that I had designed for them to. It was extremely encouraging. After all, a writer needs to know that they’re on the right path. One of the ways to get that confidence is by shopping your work around to see if it’s achieving the effects that you desire it to.
The first chapter of my novel is a scene between Mark the young protagonist and Lubomir, a heavy-set middle-aged man who owns a failing diner. Mark enters Lubo’s office and is immediately met with antagonism. Within the span of 1,500 words, I showcase Mark’s unusual talent for salesmanship, the desperation of both Lubo and Mark, and the change in one of the characters. Being that the two are full realized characters, my readers got a very strong sense of what was happening in their lives and who they were.
According to my fellow writers, I expertly wielded the use of description. They also seemed to catch the themes that I alluded to, namely that of first impressions. One particularly deft reader even caught the fact that Mark was more or less formless in comparison to Lubo, whose emotions were practically tangible. It was my desired effect that Mark comes off as someone who shapeshifts into whatever form he needs in order to close a sale.
All the overwhelmingly positive feedback—and the absence of negative feedback—was extremely encourgaging. When one student made a comment, the professor and other students even defended my work. These are all extremely good signs that I am heading in the right direction. I’ve often written about the so-called desired effect of a writer. I have shown that I am consistently achieving my desired effects. And that can only lead to success.
The key is to know what exactly your desired effect is. To achieve that, of each section of writing, ask yourself what your desired effect is. Start off with a larger scope of inquiry: look at the chapter as a whole. Then, look at each scene. Within each scene, look at each paragraph. And then, finally, within each paragraph, look at each sentence. At each level, the desired effects should work in service to that desired effect.
Today’s encouragement spurs me on to do more work on my novel. I was at a standstill before. It was because I wasn’t sure if I was heading in the right direction with my novel. One professor (who also works as an editor) didn’t express much of an understanding of my work, which was a little disappointing. But to see that an entire workshop full of young people connect with and understand the first chapter of my novel, and to see that people really do catch the subtle nuances that I wrote into it, gives me enormous assurances that I am fully capable of writing the novel that I envision. It gives me a firmness to my walk, a bit of swagger in my gait, to know that I have proven that I know exactly what it is that I am doing with my writing.
And so, to any aspiring writers out there, I would suggest attending writing workshops. I used to look down on workshops because I viewed them as nothing but a bunch of unqualified people circle-jerking each other, especially when they’re set up outside an academic setting. But now, I see it as more of a way to get vital feedback on your work. As a writer, you must make sure that your writing is achieving what it set out to do. Is it making the impact that you want? Are people picking up on the nuances? Are you doing things the right way? After all, art lies in the people’s interpretation of your work. Writing cannot be considered art until it reaches the mind of the reader, the place that is the genesis of meaning and artistic reach.