I’ve been asked recently to critique other people’s writing, and every time that happens I tense up, freeze or feel like running and crying.
I rarely ask for feedback on my own writing. If a piece never reaches its potential, it’s generally because I wasn’t ready to take it there. That I wasn’t ready to give it the time and space it needed, or that I couldn’t avoid oversharing or go as deep as it required.
The majority of my stuff—and I hope most writers’ stuff—is complete sh*t (not being self-effacing, do not be fooled) but I recognise that writing “bad stuff” is perhaps the most important step to writing better stuff.
I do believe there are teachers out there who can teach writing and who I could learn from, I’m just fairly certain at this time that I am not one of them. Maybe purely out of a lacking in self-confidence, even as I write this I’m struggling with the devil on my shoulder shouting, “Who are you to suggest anyone cares what you have to say?” I’m definitely not suggesting this, I’m just suggesting that I have something to say.
I recently started a blog linked to my artist website. And I’m fully aware that these pieces I’m currently sharing may be a source of embarrassment at a later date. But I’m doing it still because even though my early performances on Youtube are often times sources of embarrassment for me, they were required steps to get to me to where I am now. So I’m owning the embarrassment with gentleness and eventually, I hope, pride.
I can lead or teach by example in the abstract sense: this is how I’m trying to live my life, constantly sharing my missteps, lessons, euphorias, and as a result, poems sometimes occur. I believe that writing is only worth it when it’s coming from, or directing you to, a place of connection. Connection to yourself, your breath and silence.
There’s nothing about my writing that lends itself to being taught. I’m not proficient in grammar or technique. I’m not deep enough to master metaphor, and I’m not a very good storyteller. There is nothing about my work that suggests I know what I’m doing. Because I don’t. But I still do it, and my heart is in it. And maybe that’s what people are picking up on but there’s nothing writing-wise that I can teach.
Sure, I could teach techniques around life that could maybe help with writing “better” pieces: meditation, journaling, feeling, silence. But I know nothing about writing. And when looked to for guidance around writing it feels misrepresentational to pretend to have answers.
My writing, if it’s any good, is just the result of how I’m living and making sense of life.
So I’ll give opinions on someone’s life if they ask (sometimes even if they don’t), but to critique someone’s work, to me suggests it’s about me or the audience, and it’s not. It’s about the writer. It’s about the writer making sense of a life. And if it works for an audience, then that’s great. But there is still value in it even if it isn’t palatable to an audience, because it’s getting the writer to somewhere new.
To put the audience first is the wrong angle to be approaching the art from.
It’s so easy to forget this when the main outlet for spoken word is in competition, but I’m probably not a slam poet; I’ve just found nowhere else that would have me!
I will still lead workshops in high schools that look like I know what I’m talking about. I will still lead free writes and ice breakers that pretend to be about the poetry. But they’re not.
The poetry is about the life. So no, at this time I won’t help you with your writing. I genuinely have nothing to say about it. Your life though? Or your heart? Sure. I could talk to you about that.
Author: Pam Stewart
Image: Look Magazine, Photographer/Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Katarina Tavčar