On the Same Page: One Tip for Easing the Pain of Critique

DYLAN MANNING

Featured Image: Truman Capote, 1959 by Roger Higgins for the New York World-Telegram and the Sun via Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the public domain.


You’ve finished your short story,  painstakingly perfecting all twelve pages, and submitted it to your writing group to be workshopped. After weeks of apprehension, tonight is finally the night. You’re looking forward to the praise, congratulations, and encouragements you’re sure you are going to receive and perhaps a suggestion to submit your work to The New Yorker. You brace yourself for this cascade of compliments, taking a seat in the circle and nodding politely to your colleagues. “Don’t smile too much,” you tell yourself. “Be cool.” And then it starts. They smile and say they “liked it” and it “definitely had some parts worth reading” but overall it “needs some work” and “heavy editing” before it can be “considered for publication.”

You want to cry. You want to tell them how you really felt about all their pieces because all the times you thoughtfully critiqued their work you had really been holding back. You feel the urge to run away, rip up your piece, and never write again, regretting suddenly your decision not to go to med school or night school for automotive repair. You wish that you knew someone with real taste who could read it for you, really read it, and tell you that it’s a great piece of fiction and anybody who says otherwise doesn’t know a thing about writing.

They just told you your baby was ugly, and it hurt.

Imagine Doing This All the Time: Support River River write! Community Salons

Guys. GUYS. Last Friday, River River had the BEST night. If you were there, you were probably transported to a new state of being, and want to support our online fundraiser without further rumination. If you weren’t there, read on. We’ll include the link again at the end of the post, we promise.

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Our reputation for organizing warm, open, and highly entertaining readings with local writers preceded us all the way to Georgia, where poet Nick Norwood, director of the Carson McCullers Center, was planning events for the celebrated author’s centennial. River River joined in the festivities planned for Nyack, Carson McCullers’ home for twenty years, where the author famously hosted many artists and musicians at her historic Broadway house.

The room was packed. As always, we began with an open mic to warm up the crowd for James Hoch, an award-winning local poet (Miscreants, 2007) who teaches at Ramapo College. We had a published novelist and veteran poet lining up for the open mic, right alongside regulars from our writing circles and starry-eyed newcomers. No line-jumping allowed! The welcoming grace of our community did the rest. The air was heavy and bright with words. Everyone left wanting more.

We want to give more, and keep giving it for a long time. Which is why it’s so important for us to reach our very modest goal of $1,600 through this online campaign.

We are growing! We are reaching an ever-widening circle of writers.

Over the last three months, River River Writers Circle has brought over 500 hours of low- to no-cost writing circles, readings, and workshops to a community of writers with all levels of experience, including:

  • up to three write! generative salons each week,
  • readings by contributors to our Journal and by award-winning poets and novelists, which
  • always feature open-mic readings from our writing circles, without regard for publication credits or other honors—all you need is five minutes’ worth of material and the will to stand up.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this ALL THE TIME? We think so! If you add up all of those hours (priceless, we know, but that never stopped anyone from trying to put a price on something really good), and multiply by, say, $10/hour, you’ll quickly understand why we need your help.

River River Writers Circle is surviving on less than minimum wage.

We are an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We need to raise about $1,600 so that potential grantors know that you guys believe in us. In return for your donation of as little as $5, you will be commemorated forever on the pages of River River Journal’s first-ever anthology, due for publication in 2018.

And of course, the perks evolve and beautify as your donation increases. Your donation could purchase editorial services for yourself or your favorite aspiring writer. You could have us print hand-bound, custom chapbooks of your selection of poetry. Or you could buy a ticket to our spring Lodestar reading. Check out the link for more information.

Keep us afloat in Nyack on this amazing river of words.

Carson McCullers, A Local Centennial Celebration

The afternoon of Sunday, February 19 was unusually balmy, offering a warm kickoff to the centennial celebration of local writer Carson McCullers. River River editors and members enjoyed a literary and musical performance based on the author’s work at Nyack Library, then a sunlit stroll to the historic Carson McCullers house, a white Victorian a short distance down South Broadway, for a festive reception.

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Nyack Library’s Carnegie Room provided a rich setting for actor Patrick Donovan’s dramatic monologue of “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.“, written by McCullers at age 19. Liliya Ugay followed with a haunting performance of her original piano composition inspired by the story, accompanied by Paul Neubauer on viola.

Borrowed Pages – Inauguration Day

Whirring blades of helicopter on the flat-screen darkened the diner counter, while I pulled my gloves off. I’d come straight from the protest rally on Main Street in Nyack, New York, where my inauguration-day mood had shifted from black to a mere dark gray. But, staring up at the event about to tumble into history, I recoiled, feeling grateful that the usual spot for our writing group is all the way in the back, next to the chalkboards announcing smoothie flavors and Nespresso options.

Writers arrived with muted greetings, spread themselves out at the long table. Some glanced over at me, probably wondering what might prompt creative writing in this dim light.

streaky lights

Find Flow with River River this December

While ice will soon form on the Hudson, River River brings a swirl of literary events to Cuppa Pulp Writers’ Space at CILK119 in December. Cuppa Pulp, a major sponsor of River River along with Seranam Literary Arts, offers a physical space to anchor the budding nonprofit. We hope you will enjoy the wellspring of literary events made possible by this partnership this month and for many months to come!

We’ll begin on December 3 with Saturday Morning write!, a 3-week series of free salons designed to encourage generation of new work. Facilitators Donna Miele or Anu Amaran will offer a prompt in a supportive group atmosphere. Writers take this wherever their creativity leads them, and we end by sharing our work fresh off the page. The write! salons are River River’s signature offering, and have sailed through a variety of wonderful venues, including Art Cafe, Johnnycakes, and Didier Dumas of Nyack. We are honored and excited to continue hosting salons at Cuppa Pulp. 

December 17 brings a triple-splash that includes write!, then a Drop-in Poetry Revision Workshop with Anu Amaran, and right in the middle of it all, the much-loved holiday season Lodestar Reading, featuring local author Mary Beth Keane, who will read from her novel, Fever. Fever was named one of the best books of 2013 by the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR Books, and Library Journal.

Come in with the estuary tides!

The Invitation by Jean Marie Donnelly

Jean Marie Donnelly, also a member of Rockland County’s Writing Beyond the Basics, leads River River salons at Cuppa Pulp Writers’ Space. She is at work on a novel set in a dystopian world in which creativity has been banned. The following story, true to Jean Marie’s taste for the weird and fantastical, is based on a prompt called “The Invitation.” We always love a good twist!

~

I stare at the wedding invitation on my kitchen table.  There’s been some mistake.  The invitation looks exactly like the one my fiancée, Declan, and I picked out. I touch it to be sure; rough where the roses belong and pearl smooth around the edges. I run my finger across the raised lettering I had insisted upon.  D-E-C-L-A-N S-A-V-O-Y.  The letters are so neatly spaced out and his name feels so good under my fingers.  M-E-G-A-N L-A-N-G-S-T-O-N.  My finger traces out the rise, fall, crevice, and groove of each letter.  Surely there is some mistake.  Declan and I met during our junior year of college. We’ve been a genuinely loving couple for the last six years.  Why is Megan’s name there? This mystery is not helping the piercing headache I can’t seem to cure.

Reading in Translation: One Student’s Five Cents

Recently, River River’s teen intern Mia Schiffer had the opportunity to discuss some fine points on reading in translation with Claudia Shaldervan, a classmate and native Russian speaker. The text was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Both students are writers, poets, and artists. While certain details of Claudia’s experience will be familiar to those who have shared it, the overall discussion offers some wonderfully deep thought on the transformative effect translation can have on literature, as well as a poignantly expressed opinion on how reading one’s national literature from afar creates powerful, conflicting feelings of connectedness and disconnectedness. 

Q:   Do you think that a book or poem can truly be translated into another language and keep its integrity?

A: Literature of any language holds a humor and essence unique to its culture. Of the Russian works I compare with their English translations, poetry especially gets lost in translation.

A Character Template: You Won’t Know If You Don’t Ask

By Julie M. Goldberg

The fiction project I’m working on features a large cast of characters gathered in a supermarket one autumn evening. I won’t elaborate on what is happening to them there, but suffice to say that not one is having a pleasant shopping experience.

When writing my first novel, I felt that the characters existed in the universe somewhere, and my role was to get well enough acquainted with them that they would trust me and tell me their story. They did, but it took a long time.

The characters in the current story have suggested their collective existence and experiences to me, but require much more effort to sculpt as individuals. I wanted each to have a separate soul, as evidenced through her language, her longings, and her choices.

Poetry as a Ward Against Conspiracy Theory by Celeste Rose Wood

What makes a conspiracy theorist and what makes a poet? Could it be the same psychological phenomenon manifesting differently in different minds, in different environments? I suspect that dissociation at a subclinical level, which has been implicated in suggestibility or openness to hypnosis, as well as in credulous belief of paranormal phenomena, also contributes to the creative processes of poetry and other art. Most of us, poet, conspiracy theorist or neither, have likely occasionally experienced mild feelings of unreality during which the world seems dreamlike or hazy: a manifestation of dissociation at subclinical levels.

Outward Bound

Night Running, Down Moonbeams

Thoughts on intersections between poetry and photography, jotted down while sailing down the edge of Megapolis: a photoblog by River River Photography Editor David e Bell.

Departure

I was a photographer first, and looking back poetry has always been there filling in the gaps. Perhaps photography has been providing the structure upon which I have created a series of poetic universes.

In my world, photography is reactive, reality bounded, while poetry is reflective, unchained to any particularly reality. The photographer is limited by the physics of light, the limits of his software, and a moment frozen in time. Poetry is timeless, bound only by the texture of language and the poet’s ability to work that texture, to weave images that exist only in the mind.