I attended a writing workshop over the weekend led by someone trained in the Amherst Writers & Artists Method, which basically states that anyone can write, everyone is creative and unique, and we can all learn to improve through positive feedback alone. The workshop was a fascinating and respectful experience, with a great group of people sincerely dedicated to supporting each other.

We had the choice whether to share our work as we wrote or not, and although I am always reluctant to share, I embraced the spirit of the workshop and joined in. I was only nervous the first time (and maybe a little the second time). By the end of the day, I felt like everything I wrote was amazing and the group was genuinely interested in everything I had to say.

I was surprised by how easy it was to overcome my reticence to share when it was demonstrated that my audience would only say good things. I was also surprised by how different my work seemed from everyone else’s, even when we were responding to the same prompts, but I suspect everyone felt that way about what they shared. It was more obvious in the drawing exercise: given the same tools and the same instructions, we all created pictures with no commonalities.

As we were leaving, we spoke about sharing our work again later, and someone commented that I was lucky because I’d written on a tablet. “You don’t have to look at it again to share it,” he said. “You can just copy and paste. I wrote mine longhand, so I’ll have to transcribe it, and I can tell you right now, as soon as I look at this again, I’ll kill it.” He knew in advance that he wouldn’t like his work when he reread it.

This is a common artistic experience, but I foolishly thought it would be different this time: after all, the entire workshop had been about finding the good in what we’d done. I opened up my writing the next day, confident I would appreciate and want to continue it.

Nope! Sure enough, it was all terrible. (I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t, but that’s how I perceived it without everyone around me telling me otherwise.) I don’t know where that voice comes from,* but apparently it can’t be retrained in a single day.

*One argument I particularly like is that the voice is pure authorial comparison: between the vision conveyed by our writing, and the vision we see in our mind. This explains why audiences almost always like the work more than the artist: the audience compares the work to nothing, to the absence of vision, while the artist compares it to what they imagine it could have been. Thus the audience always sees more, while the author always sees less.

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