Monday, January 11, 2010

Member Appreciation Month: Amani Elkassabani

Writing as Collaboration

I count myself among those who believe that writing is done in isolation. When I write, I sit alone, putting fingers to keyboard or holding pen to paper, attempting to express the thoughts, stories, or images in my head. I also believe that the hardest work of writing—the revising—is not done alone. Quite the opposite. The process of revision begins with collaboration.

To do the hard work or revision, I need an expanded perspective. Since I am often too close my writing, I must rely on those who read my work to convey that perspective to me. This new perspective, expressed though constructive feedback, enables me to make critical changes to my writing, ones that can help me deepen a character, tighten a plot, or sharpen the dialogue in a story.

While giving constructive feedback requires thoughtful attention to what the writer is trying to accomplish, using this feedback requires a willingness to let go. It means letting go of the words, of the time and effort that I have poured into the work. Mostly, it means giving up control—if only temporarily. When I share my writing with others and invite their critiques, I am giving up something, but am gaining something more valuable: access to a reader’s response to my writing. This response, when given honestly, critically, and carefully, has always led me to examine my writing and reflect on it. Often, the response has helped me to make marked improvements. Occasionally, it has catapulted me forward in new and exciting directions.

This kind of collaborative exchange requires mutual respect and trust. Anyone who writes knows how hard writing is: carving out the time, making it a daily practice, telling a story or capturing a moment in just the right words. We’ve all experienced the challenges of being a writer. And we all have enormous respect for those who attempt to write. Our respect fosters trust, which continues to develop not only when we support each other’s work and ambitions, but mostly when we come to rely on other writers to give us honest and useful critiques of our writing.

Taking an active part in a writing community, whether it be in a workshop or writing group, builds relationships that are rooted in appreciation for one another’s yearning to express something true and profound and to share that with others. Sharing oneself can be a risky endeavor, one that makes us vulnerable. But it is also an act of hope, one that can ultimately lead to increased insight and to greater connectedness with others. For me, achieving this connectedness is one of the greatest joys writing brings me. It is also something I would not be able to achieve alone.

To my fellow writers—many of whom I have met through workshops taken at The Writer’s Center—who have been careful readers, honest critics, trusted peers, I am grateful for the critical feedback you have given me. You have helped make me a better writer than I could ever have become on my own.

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