Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Growth

At this time of year so many plants are just beginning to unfurl new leaves, giving tantalizing hints of what a season of growth will eventually reveal. These odd, somewhat Seussian, olive and magenta shoots of a tree peony will spread and develop into glossy deep-green leaves -- if a hard freeze doesn't get them.

I see a parallel with the burgeoning writers in my writing class. Tonight was our fourth meeting and it's so delightful to see their work expanding and deepening even in such a short time.

They're a diverse group -- three men and three women -- writing on a variety of subjects in a variety of styles. But they pay attention -- and this is the key -- to the text, to one another , and to their teacher, (who occasionally wonders why in the world she has the effrontery to set up as a teacher. Then, of course, she remembers, "Oh, yes, the fella from UNCA asked me to -- and then there was the money.")

It's not easy, reading your work aloud to a bunch of strangers -- especially when you know that they've been tasked with pointing out any and all weaknesses. But I believe it's one of the best things a writer can do to improve his craft. First, in the reading aloud the writer can hear exactly what those words sound like -- is the dialogue realistic? does the narrative flow? And secondly, in listening to the comments of others, the writer acknowledges that he's writing not for only for himself but for potential readers. If they don't understand something, the job's not done.

Criticism -- as long as it's not of the hard freeze variety, withering those tender shoots before they mature -- can nurture a budding writer. I look forward to seeing what the season brings for the folks in my class. The promise is definitely there.
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